Islamabad, Pakistan – Pakistan’s military has taken a group of international journalists and diplomats on a tour of the site of the Indian air attacks in the northern town of Jaba, including the first-ever visit allowed to a school affiliated with the Jaish-e-Muhammad (JeM) armed group that India said it had been targeting in the attack.
The group of journalists – mostly flown in from the Indian capital, New Delhi – and diplomats based in Islamabad was flown to Jaba, about 100km north of the capital Islamabad, by helicopter on Wednesday, a military statement said.
The group was shown the sites where bombs from a February 26 air attack by the Indian Air Force hit on a mostly uninhabited mountainside in the remote northern area, a military action that heightened tensions between the nuclear-armed neighbours and saw Pakistan launch retaliatory attacks a day later.
India claims it hit a JeM training camp in the area, killing “a very large number of JeM terrorists, trainers, senior commanders and groups of jihadis”, according to a foreign ministry statement released shortly after the attacks.
Pakistan disputed the claim, saying four Indian bombs hit a forest, lightly wounding a farmer and damaging his home and fields.
An Al Jazeera visit to the site of the air raids a day after the attack found four distinct bomb craters on a forested mountainside, with little evidence of other damage. Interviews with residents, witnesses, local officials and medical personnel offered no evidence of mass casualties, as the Indian government had claimed.
Residents and witnesses told Al Jazeera at the time that there was a religious school close to the targeted site, but that it was undamaged in the attack.
A road sign for the school said that it was led by JeM Chief Masood Azhar and administered by Muhammad Yousaf Azhar, the JeM chief’s brother-in-law. The sign has since been removed, and journalists on Wednesday’s military tour said it was no longer present.
In the first-ever visit to the site of the school, journalists and diplomats were shown a large room where children were rocking back and forth as they read the Quran, and a set of buildings that appeared to be undamaged, journalists who were on the trip told Al Jazeera on condition of anonymity.
“It was difficult to be conclusive,” said one reporter, pointing out how military personnel monitored the group throughout the delegation’s visit and sometimes intervened during interviews with teachers and students.
“The buildings did not look tampered with – the roofs didn’t look new, everything there looked pretty old,” the reporter said when asked if there appeared to be any evidence of the buildings having been repaired in the 43 days since the air raids.
A second journalist who was on the tour corroborated that account.
The journalists said there were between 75 and 100 students present at the school, and that most appeared to live in on-site dormitories, which the delegation was denied access to.
Teachers at the school denied any links to JeM, the journalists said.
|Tensions remain high between India and Pakistan, as voting began in India’s staggered elections on Thursday [File: Asad Hashim/Al Jazeera]|
Tensions remain high between India and Pakistan, as India’s staggered general elections kicked off on Thursday.
Last week, Pakistan’s foreign minister accused India of creating a “war frenzy” and preparing to attack Pakistani territory later this month.
“Pakistan has reliable intelligence that India is hatching a new plan for aggression against Pakistan,” Pakistani Minister of Foreign Affairs Shah Mehmood Qureshi told reporters on Sunday. “This can happen in between April 16 and 20.”
India denied the charge, saying the allegation was “irresponsible and preposterous”, according to foreign ministry spokesperson Raveesh Kumar.
Earlier this week, the two countries once again traded barbs when a US magazine reported that a count of Pakistan’s F-16 fighter jet fleet by US inspectors had revealed no missing aircraft, contradicting a claim made by India that it had shot down one of those jets.
India and Pakistan have fought two of their three wars since gaining independence in 1947 over the disputed territory of Kashmir, which both countries claim in full but administer separate portions of.
The latest round of hostilities was sparked by a suicide attack in the Indian-administered Kashmir town of Pulwama that killed more than 40 Indian security forces personnel in mid-February. India blamed Pakistan-based JeM and the country’s intelligence services for carrying out the attack, a charge Pakistan has denied.
Founded in 2000, JeM has carried out several high-profile attacks against Indian security forces and government targets, mostly in the disputed Kashmir region.
Following the air attacks, Pakistan has carried out a crackdown against JeM and the Lashkar-e-Taiba armed groups, arresting dozens of leaders – including family members of JeM chief, Azhar – and seizing properties across the country, according to the interior ministry.
Asad Hashim is Al Jazeera’s digital correspondent in Pakistan. He tweets @AsadHashim
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