Journalists, diplomats visit Pakistani madrasa that India claims was hit by its air strike

On Wednesday, April 10, a group of journalists from foreign news organizations and foreign diplomats was permitted access to a madrasa in Pakistan that was the alleged target of air strike by the Indian military, Reuters reported. The Indian government had claimed that it killed several hundred “terrorists,” Reuters noted. The madrasa is on a hilltop in the Jaba village area, near Balakot. Reuters explained that some visitors expected to clarify several details, especially regarding India’s claim that the air strike was a success and hit a major terror training camp, or if they missed the madrasa and instead landed in the hills, as Pakistan has said. Another aspect was if the madrasa “was a cover” for Jaish-e-Mohammed (JeM). The organisation claimed responsibility for the February 14 suicide bombing that claimed the lives of 40 CRPF personnel, after which India mounted the air strike.

However, the diplomats and reporters did not have sufficient time to address these queries. They were only permitted into the madrasa’s main building, and “were hurried away by the army, which organised the trip, after less than half an hour. Those arriving by vehicle had even less time,” Reuters stated, adding that they were also only permitted a limited interaction with the madrasa’s teachers and students, which ranged from young to older teenagers. When questioned about this, army spokesperson Major General Asif Ghafoor said that Pakistan did not have anything to hide, and that reporters could come to stay for a night or even a month in the future. He denied that JeM had recently used the madrasa, and indicated that “If there was a relationship it was a long time ago,” Reuters stated.

At least three diplomats told Reuters that “it was very difficult to draw any firm conclusions because of the six-week delay in gaining access and the restricted time allowed to look around.” One Western diplomat said, “I don’t think the site was hit but I still can’t be 100 percent after today,” adding, “As to whether JeM were here – they may have been but I can’t determine that from this either.” The group was “shown craters that the allegedly wayward missiles had created on the surrounding hillsides” on its way up to the madrasa compound, Reuters reported.

The group of diplomats and journalists did not see any indication that there had been construction work to remove structures, or build new ones, Reuters noted, adding that vegetation also did not seem display any signs of being hit by a missile attack. Satellite images have suggested that the primary buildings on the hill seemed to be in the same condition as they were prior to the air strike.  For the complete Reuters piece, go here.

 

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