Pakistan says a 2019 air raid by India was a “false flag” operation conducted by India’s governing Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) for electoral gains and urged the world community to stop its long-time rival’s “reckless, militarist agenda”.
In a series of tweets on Monday, Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan said India’s “fascist” government led by his counterpart Narendra Modi “used the Balakot crisis for domestic electoral gains”, referring to the Indian raid on the northwestern Pakistani town on February 26, 2019.
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In 2019, I spoke at UNGA on how India’s fascist Modi govt used the Balakot crisis for domestic electoral gains. Latest revelations from communication of an Indian journalist, known for his warmongering, reveal the unholy nexus between the Modi govt & Indian media
— Imran Khan (@ImranKhanPTI) January 18, 2021
Khan’s tweets followed the publication of hundreds of pages of the transcript of WhatsApp chats between prominent right-wing Indian TV anchor Arnab Goswami and Partho Dasgupta, the incarcerated head of the Broadcast Audience Research Council (BARC) ratings company.
The chats, published as evidence submitted by the police in Mumbai city as part of an ongoing investigation into manipulation of television ratings, suggest that Goswami, Republic TV’s co-owner and host, knew in advance of New Delhi’s plan to attack Balakot in Pakistan’s Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province.
India’s “surgical strike”, which it claimed was targeting a training camp for Kashmiri rebels in Balakot, was conducted to avenge the killings of 40 Indian soldiers in Indian-administered Kashmir’s Pulwama area earlier that month.
India had blamed Pakistan-backed Kashmiri rebels for the February 14 attack on its military convoy, an allegation Islamabad denied.
On the day following the Balakot attack, the Pakistani Air Force shot down an Indian Air Force aircraft and captured a pilot, who was later released by Islamabad as a “goodwill gesture”.
Since their independence from British rule in 1947, India and Pakistan have fought two of their three wars over Kashmir – a Himalayan region split between them but claimed by both the nuclear powers in its entirety.
According to the WhatsApp chat transcript, published in a report on the Scroll.in news website, Goswami texted Dasgupta on February 23, 2019, three days before the Balakot attack, saying “something big will happen”.
Partho Dasgupta: “Good”
Partho Dasgupta: “It’s good for big man in this season”
Partho Dasgupta: “He will sweep polls then”
Partho Dasgupta: “Strike? Or bigger”
Arnab Goswami: “Bigger than a normal strike. And also on the same time something major on Kashmir. On Pakistan the government is confident of striking in a way that people will be elated. Exact words used.”
Pakistan’s Prime Minister Khan on Monday said the chats “reveal the dirty nexus” between the Indian government and its media “that is pushing our nuclearised region to the brink of a conflict it cannot afford”.
“Latest revelations from communication of an Indian journalist, known for his warmongering, reveal the unholy nexus between the Modi govt & Indian media that led to a dangerous military adventurism to win an election in utter disregard for the consequences of destabilising the entire region,” Khan tweeted on Monday.
In the 2019 general elections in India, the “surgical strike” was one of the BJP’s main polls planks, helping the Hindu nationalist party win a bigger majority than it did in 2014.
Khan said Pakistan “averted a larger crisis by a responsible, measured response to Balakot. Yet, Modi govt continues to turn India into a rogue state.”
BJP spokesman Syed Zafar Islam rejected Khan’s allegation, calling Pakistan a “terrorist factory” and saying his party never used the 2019 air raid for gains in the parliamentary polls.
“National security and nationalism are something which are of paramount importance for our party. We have never compromised, we will never compromise, but will we use it for political purpose? Never,” he told Al Jazeera.
On Sunday, a similar statement by Pakistan’s foreign ministry said India “claims to have launched [the] so-called surgical strike and then deviously manipulates national sentiment in its bid to win elections” in 2019.
“We had, at the outset, rejected India’s malicious propaganda against Pakistan and highlighted that the biggest beneficiary of the Pulwama attack was the BJP government, as it secured a landslide victory in the ensuing Lok Sabha elections,” said the Pakistani foreign ministry statement, adding it would continue to counter India’s “falsehoods with truth and act firmly and responsibly in the face of India’s provocations”.
“The pattern is unmistakable, and has been repeated to suit the RSS-BJP regime’s electoral calculations,” the ministry said, referring to the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh, the BJP’s ideological mentor which aims to create an ethnic Hindu state in India.
The statement referred to a November 2020 report released by Europe-based independent group, EU Disinfo Lab, which exposed a 15-year campaign to “denigrate” Pakistan and the Kashmir movement at international forums, spreading a disinformation campaign that targeted the European Union and the United Nations with over 750 fake local media outlets and more than 10 non-governmental organisations.
It said the Goswami transcripts have “further exposed India’s sinister designs and vindicated Pakistan’s long held position”.
— Republic (@republic) January 17, 2021
In response, India’s Republic Media Network late on Sunday issued a statement, rejecting “the allegations of the Government of Pakistan against Arnab Goswami”.
“The statement of the Government of Pakistan against India’s leading news network – the Republic Media Network is proof of the deep-conspiracy of anti-India and anti-national forces” against the network and its editor-in-chief Goswami, it said.
It said Goswami, in his long career as a journalist, had “exposed, every sinister design, and evil intention of the Government of Pakistan”, claiming to be the first network “to expose Pakistan after the Pulwama attack”.
Bilal Kuchay contributed to this report from New Delhi, India