Amid opposition's demands for an account of the impact of the Surgical Strike 2.0, Defence Minister Nirmala Sitharaman on Tuesday said that the Balakot airstrike by the Indian Air Force (IAF) on a Jaish-e-Mohammed (JeM) camp in Pakistan was "not a military action" as there was no damage to civilians. The February 26 Balakot airstrike has triggered a massive controversy following contradictory remarks from the IAF, Foreign Ministry and the BJP.
Breaking her silence on the Balakot airstrike, Sitharaman said, "The foreign secretary gave the statement; that is the figure", in reference to the briefing by Foreign Secretary Vijay Gokhale the day the air strikes took place. Gokhale, however, had not given any casualty figure and said that in this non-military and pre-emptive strike on a JeM training camp, a very large number of terrorists, trainers, senior commanders and groups of jihadis who were being trained for fidayeen action were eliminated".
Briefing the media on the sidelines of the launch of Pradhan Mantri Shram Yogi Maandhan (PMSYM) scheme in Chennai, Sitharaman said, "After Pulwama attack, we were waiting patiently for days... When we got information the terrorist attacks were originating from that region (Pakistan), without military action, we carried out the strike pointedly".
"Civilians in the vicinity or surrounding areas were not affected in any way, so we have been saying the strike we carried out after Pulwama suicide bombing was not a military action," she added.
On casualty figure in airstrike, Air Chief Marshal BS Dhanoa on Monday said, "Air Force is not in a position to clarify how many people were inside. We don't count human casualties. We count what targets we have hit or not hit".
In the mean time, BJP president Amit Shah's claim that over 250 terrorists were killed in last week's air strike has triggered a massive political storm with the opposition rushing to question the figure and battering the government of politicising the air strike. However, Union Minister VK Singh on Tuesday said it was not a confirmed figure but an estimate.
Addressing a public meeting in Ahmedabad on Monday, Amit Shah said, "After Uri, our forces went into Pakistan and carried out surgical strikes. They avenged the death of our soldiers".
"After Pulwama, everyone thought there could be no surgical strikes, what will happen? But under Modi's leadership, the government carried out an air strike after the 13th day and killed more than 250 terrorists," he went on to claim further.
On debate over the the air strike coming in an election year, Sitharaman said, "There is no relationship between the air strike and elections. It was based on intelligence inputs on terrorist activities in Pakistan, to be unleashed against India. It was not a military action".
Sitharaman's statements sought to silence speculations on the air strike as the Opposition has been seeking details of the death toll in the airstrike, even as the IAF, which carried out the attacks post the Pulwama suicide bombing, said on Monday the Centre would provide details on the casualty figures.
On February 14, a suicide bomber of the Pakistan-based JeM rammed an explosive-laden vehicle into a bus in Jammu and Kashmir's Pulwama district, killing 42 Central Reserve Police Force (CRPF) personnel.
On peace talks proposed by Pakistan Prime Minister Imran Khan, Sitharaman said, "We have always been telling that India will be ready to hold talks only if they act against terrorism, adding that it has failed to take action against terror groups despite India providing details of terrorist training camps.
"Pakistan has been informed about terrorist camps, with proof, by the present (NDA) and previous UPA government. But they neither took action, nor did they remove the terrorist training camps. Pakistan has been denying this globally, saying it was also a victim of terrorism," she added.