Former chief of the Indian Air Force, Air Chief Marshal (retd) BS Dhanoa, spoke to Hindustan Times close to one year after the Balakot air strike about the details of the operation, what it took to plan and execute, what it means for India’s future military equation with Pakistan, and the capabilities of the Rafale jets. Edited excerpts:
Pakistan has tried to project the Balakot operation as a military and diplomatic victory — the Imran Khan government says it brought down an Indian Air Force jet and captured the pilot. It says it brought focus on Kashmir and projected India as a global threat. What do you say about these claims?
Military victory is measured on the scale of whether you have achieved the stated political objective or not. Our objective in Balakot was to hit the Jaish-e-Mohammed (JeM) terrorist group as a retaliation for February 14 Pulwama suicide attack on a CRPF convoy. It so happened that the JeM camp was inside Pakistan in Manshera and not in Occupied Kashmir. We hit the camp at Jaba top in Balakot.
The fact that we hit the camp is very clear, as is evident from the open-source satellite imagery. Then there is circumstantial evidence as they (Pakistan) isolated the place. If it was just a seminary, and not a military establishment, there was no need to isolate the place. They did not allow anyone to go near the site for 40 days, and then took a guided tour to a mosque in the facility, which Indian bombs had deliberately avoided. The fact is that the terror camp was hit with a lot of casualties, which the Pakistanis were hiding. So the military victory statement is false.
Secondly, Pakistan’s military response the day after Balakot was against Indian military targets, though we had hit a non-military target at Markaz Syed Ahmad Shaheed in Balakot. The Pakistanis missed their military targets south of Pir Panjal because of the calibre of weapons used.