Officials on Thursday prevented a Reuters team from climbing a hill in Balakot area in northeastern Pakistan to the site of a madrasa and a group of surrounding buildings that were targeted by the Indian Air Force on February 26.
It is the third time in the past nine days that Reuters reporters have visited the area, and each time the path up to what villagers say was a religious school run at one time by terror outfit Jaish-e-Mohammed (JeM) and what India says was a terrorist training camp was blocked.
Foreign Secretary Vijay Gokhale had said the IAF air strike killed “a very large number of Jaish-e-Mohammed terrorists, trainers, senior commanders, and groups of jihadis”.
The security officials guarding the way to the site cited “security concerns” for denying access. They stuck to the Pakistani government’s position that no damage was caused to any buildings and there was no loss of life.
In Islamabad, the military’s press wing has twice called off visits to the site for weather and organisational reasons and an official said no visit would be possible for a few days more due to security issues.
The Reuters team could view the madrasa from 100 metres away and only from below. The building that reporters could see was surrounded by pine trees, and did not show any signs of damage or activity but given the view, the assessment is very limited.
Reuters had said high-resolution satellite images produced by Planet Labs Inc, a San Francisco-based private satellite operator, showed at least six buildings standing on the madrasa site on March 4, virtually unchanged from an April 2018 satellite photo of the facility.
Villagers told Reuters that the ‘school’ was no longer operational. “It was shut down in June last,” said one, who asked not to be identified.
On previous visits, a number of residents had said the madrasa was run by the JeM. A sign with the group’s name had previously stood near the site but was later removed.