“Pakistan admits that 200 terrorists were killed.”; “Bodies of slain terrorists were shifted after IAF airstrike.”; “IAF Balakot airstrike proof.” “US-based Gilgit activist shares video.” – were the leading headlines on March 13 across Indian mainstream media outlets.
ANI, News18, India Today, ABP News, Times Now, Dainik Bhaskar, Dainik Jagran, India TV and Zee Newswere among the media organisations that cited a video viral on social media and claimed that it represented the Pakistani army admitting that 200 terrorists were killed by the Indian Air Force in the February 26 airstrike.
The above-stated narrative was, however, not verified by media organisations. Most of them sourced the story to a US-based Gigit activist, Senge Hasnan Sering, who incidentally stated to ANI, “I’m not sure how authentic this video is but Pakistan is definitely hiding something very important that has happened in Balakot.”
#Pakistan military officer admits to “martyrdom” of more than 200 militants during Indian strike on #Balakot. Calls the terrorists Mujahid who receive special favors/ sustenance from Allah as they fight to support PAK government [against enemies]. Vows to support families pic.twitter.com/yzcCgCEbmu
— #SengeSering ས།ཚ། (@SengeHSering) March 13, 2019
Zee News, which was one of the firsts to carry the report, was also at the forefront to alter the story a few hours later. From “a video on social media claims that 200 terrorists were killed but we cannot vouch for the same”, the news channel switched to, “Balakot video fake and represents a six-year-old incident.”
Right-wing website OpIndia also carried a story on the alleged admission by Pakistani army personnel.
Alt News found that the narrative broadcasted by mainstream media outlets was misleading. We stumbled upon several clues which suggested that the video did not represent the aftermath of IAF’s Balakot airstrike.
1. The audio
At about 0:50 seconds in the video, an officer of the Pakistani army lifts a child to console him. Simultaneously, an audio commentary from behind the camera, directed at the boy, says – “ये रुतबा अल्लाह के कुछ ख़ास बन्दों को नसीब होता है. आपको पता है की कुछ 200 बन्दे ऊपर गए थे? इसके नसीब में लिखा हुआ था शहादत. हम रोज़ाना चढ़ते है, जाते है, आते है. तो ये अल्लाह के ख़ास बन्दे, जिसपे करम होता है, जिसपे उनकी ख़ास नज़र-ओ-करम होती है, उसको ये नसीब होता है…परेशान नहीं होना तुम्हारा वालिद मरा नहीं है, ज़िंदा है. मरा हुआ नहीं बोलते. (This is a privilege received by only a few men special to God. Did you know some 200 men went up? Martyrdom was in his destiny. We climb every day, we go and come back. So he is special to God, who had God’s mercy, and was destined for this. Don’t get worried, your father is not dead, he is alive. You shouldn’t say he is dead.)”
Important inferences that can be conclusively drawn from the audio commentary –
1) The part where the man says, “आपको पता है की कुछ 200 बन्दे ऊपर गए थे? (Did you know some 200 men went up?)”, does not represent the death of 200 terrorists. By ‘up’ he meant ‘up the mountains/ hills’ since the line immediately succeeding this statement was – “हम रोज़ाना चढ़ते है, जाते है, आते है. (We climb every day, we go and come back.)”
2) He was, therefore, talking about the death of only one man who went up the mountains or the hills with 200 other men but did not return. A few statements at the end act as additional confirmation – “परेशान नहीं होना तुम्हारा वालिद मरा नहीं है, ज़िंदा है. मरा हुआ नहीं बोलते. (Don’t get worried, your father is not dead, he is alive. You shouldn’t say he is dead.)” – where he was talking about the child’s father who died.
3) The army officer who is holding the boy did not make the statements.
4) Since the statements were made by someone who was standing behind the camera, we do not know if he was a private citizen or a member of the Pakistani army.
2. Google reverse-image search
When Alt News reverse-searched individual frames of the video, one of them redirected us to a few Facebook posts that carried stills of the same incident.
عظیم ماں تیرے بیٹے کی لاش آئی ہے۔۔۔
خدا گواہ ہے شہادت کی موت⚰ پائی ہے۔۔
اللہ تعالیٰ شہید ہونے والے جوان کو جنت الفردوس میں اعلیٰ مقام عطا فرمائے اور اہلخانہ کو صبر کی تلقین عطا فرمائے۔۔آمین
We shall analyse these photographs one by one.
We found that the instant represented in this photograph appeared in the video at about 0:27 seconds. One can evidently spot similarities between the video frame (left) and the photograph (right), Not only are the subjects in both images same, but the name tag on the Pakistan army officer’s uniform reads ‘Faisal’.
The second photograph was of the same Pakistani army officer ‘Faisal’. As one can see in the collage below, the facial features match.
In the third image, an army officer can be seen paying tribute to a dead man. We were able to confirm that this photograph was shot at during the same event by comparing the clothes of a man who was standing beside the dead body.
It is, therefore, clear that these photographs pertained to the viral video. The Pakistani army officer Faisal was visible in both places and the photographs espoused the narrative of the audio commentary – that one man, the father of the child, died.
The burial rites of an alleged Pak soldier
Alt News traced the original video representative of the three photographs analysed in the previous sub-subsection. A Pakistani Facebook page had uploaded the video on March 1, where several people including Pak army officer Faisal, can be seen at the last rites of the man who died.
احسان اللہ شہید جنازے کا ایک خوبصورت منظر ۔
Posted by شینگاڑہ درہ نیوز on Saturday, 2 March 2019
At different lengths in the video, the same shots as the photographs are visible.
Moreover, this video also includes stills from the video viral on social media. This further confirmed that both the videos represented the same event.
The Pakistani Facebook page had also uploaded other videos and imagery of the event. In one of the photographs, the face of the dead man is visible and the caption says that his funeral took place on March 1.
عنایت اللہ او دہ عزیز الله اورور احسان اللہ خان جنازہ نن تاریخ 1.3.019.بروز جمعہ .am 11 شینگر گل کی ادا کی گئی ۔
Furthermore, at about 1:09 minutes in the video, Pakistani army men can be seen burying the man while offering a garland that carries a tag that reads – ‘GOC 21 ARTY DIV.’
The complete video and other imagery uploaded by the Pakistani Facebook page confirmed that the event represented burial rites of an alleged soldier or a civilian who recently died.
If one carefully watches the video and notices other photographs of the funeral, there is thick snow in the background. The Balakot airstrike took place on February 26 and accessing weather forecast of the time makes it evident that such thick layers of snow could not have formed in the region.
Throughout the last week of February, the temperature in Balakot did not fall below minus 5-degree Celsius. While it is possible that it snowed at that temperature, it is unlikely that thick layers of snow accumulated since the temperature fell as high as 7-degree Celsius during the day and the snow must have receded.
Moreover, ground reports from Balakot do not show any snow at the site of the airstrike. The photograph posted below, shot by a Reutersphotojournalist, was clicked on February 28 and shows no sign of snow.
The facts presented in this article conclusively establish that neither was the viral video from Balakot nor did it represent the Pakistani army admitting to the casualty of 200 terrorists. The audio commentary itself was sufficient to establish that the Pak army personnel were talking about the death of only one person. Indian mainstream media, however, broadcasted the unverified video as ‘breaking news’, some ironically running the story while declaring that they cannot vouch for the video’s authenticity. It is unfortunate that since the Pulwama attack, Indian mainstream media has been a prominent contributor to the misinformation cycle.
[Update: Alt News reached out to sources in the Pakistani media who informed that the man who died was a civilian porter, Ehsanullah. He suffered a heart attack on February 28 while assisting an army unit. Ehsanullah’s funeral rites took place on March 1 in Singhara Darora, Upper Dir district of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province in Pakistan. We checked on Google maps that Balakot is at least 300 km away from the said location.]