Indian media falsely claims Pak diplomat admits 300 killed in Balakot airstrike

On Friday, January 9, Indian news outlets reported that former Pakistani diplomat, “Agha” Hilaly has admitted that the February 26, 2019 Balakot airstrike saw 300 casualties on the Pakistani side. The aftermath of the Balakot airstrike had given rise to media reports placing the casualties at 300 citing “top government sources” even Defense Minister Nirmala Sitharaman said that the casualty figure will not be provided. International media had subsequently reported that no one had died in the strikes.

The story was reported by ANI, Republic, The Times of India, Moneycontrol, WION, Hindustan Times, NE Now, Odisha TV, Jagran, Swarajya, Lokmat, Oneindia, Deccan Herald, Business Today, Livemint, DNA, The Quint, News18 India, HW News, India Today, CNBC TV18, ABP News and India TV among others. Many of these reports are republished ANI story.

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The reports say that in a TV news debate Hilaly said, “India crossed the international border and did an act of war in which at least 300 were reported dead. Our target was different from theirs. We targeted their high command. That was our legitimate target because they are men of the military. We subconsciously accepted that a surgical strike — a limited action — did not result in any casualty. Now we have subconsciously told them that, whatever they will do, we’ll do only that much and won’t escalate.”

Clipped, doctored video cited by Indian media

We looked for the debate on YouTube and found that it was uploaded by HUM news as part of a program called “Agenda Pakistan”. The topic of the debate was “By using the vocabulary of the enemy (in this context “surgical strike”) is Pakistan making its own case weak?”. Zafar Hilaly begins to answer this question at around 4:17 minutes. At about 5:14 minutes he says, “What you did, India, was an act of war. India ne jo kiya, international boundary ko cross karke ek act of war. Jisme kam se kam 300 logo ko unhone marna tha.” In English, this translates to, “What you did, India was an act of war. By crossing the international boundary India committed an act of war in which they intended to kill at least 300 people.

The very next sentence at 5:29 minutes shows the diplomat stating that the Indian operation had failed — “Ittifaqan vo nahi mare, humne [India ne] ek football field ko bomb kiya. (Coincidentally, they [Pakistani people] did not die and India bombed a football field.)”

In fact, prior to the portion of the segment made viral, Hilaly was actually speaking about India’s intention to kill 300 on the Pakistani side. At about 4:30 minutes, he states, “Aapne aake ek madrasa ko, bakaul aapka intention ye tha ki ek madrasa mein jis mein 300 bachche bakaul aapke padh rahe the, udhar aake aapne strike karna tha. Iske maane 300 logo ko maarne ka irada rakha tha aapne. Vo the nahi, vo galat tha, vo hua nahi. Isliye ek football field mein jaake apna bomb phek diya humne. (It is said that your intention was to strike at a madrasa where 300 children were studying. This means that your intention was to kill 300 people. They were not there, this [information] was wrong, it [strike] did not happen so you threw your bomb in a football field.)”

From the video transcript is clear that at no point the Pakistani diplomat admitted that there were 300 casualties in the Balakot airstrike.

What is the origin of the claim?

None of the media organisations referred to the original video in their reports. But Republic and NE Times embedded a video uploaded by a Twitter user. If we compare the original video with the one embedded by Republic, there is an abrupt cut around 0:7-0:9 seconds. The word “marna (to kill)” sounds as if Hilaly said “mara (killed)”. The ‘n’ pronunciation has been edited out.

His statement right after the above claim has also been removed in the viral clip. This was where Hilaly makes the claim that the Indian operation failed and the airforce instead bombed a football field.

Furthermore, the viral video has been inverted and screen-recorded. The original video shows the damaged trees of Balakot and the doctored video shows a picture of PM Narendra Modi in military fatigue. The doctored video also doesn’t feature the names of the people in the panel and the border is pink unlike the white border in the original video.

Zafar Hilaly himself confirmed that his statement was “cut, spliced and edited”.

Nearly every Indian media organisation reported that Pakistani diplomat Zafar Hilaly admitted that the Indian airstrike killed 300 people in Balakot. The reports were based on a clipped and doctored panel discussion shared on social media.

This post was originally published on Radio Free.