On January 9, 2021, multiple mainstream Indian media houses reported that former Pakistani diplomat accepted that 300 people were killed in Balakot surgical strike done by India. India Today, CNN News 18, Republic Bharat, Times of India and many other media houses reported that a former Pakistani diplomat, Zafar Hilaly in a TV debate admitted that 300 people were killed in 2019's Balakot strike. The media reported that Hilaly in a TV debated 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."
On February 26, 2019, the Indian Air Force did an airstrike at the de facto border in the disputed region of Kashmir as a retaliation to Pulwama attack that happened on February 14, 2019, in which 40 CRPF personnel were killed. The IAF dropped bombs in the vicinity of the town of Balakot in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province in Pakistan.
Media houses during the Balakot strike had reported that over 300 'militants' were killed in the airstrike. However, foreign media houses refuted the claim, saying no lives were lost in the airstrike. According to the BBC, only one house was damaged slightly, some trees were fallen and a man was injured in the Balakot strike.
Ex Pakistani diplomat in a debate accepted that 300 people were killed in the Balakot strike.
Republic Bharat had attributed its story to a Twitter user, Maverick Bharat, who had posted a video of a TV debate in which Hilaly was making the remark.
On searching with the appropriate keywords, we found the full version of the video which was uploaded on YouTube by Hum News on December 23, 2020. The video was shared by Hum News with the caption, "Program Agenda Pakistan with Amir Zia."
In the video at around 4:16 minutes, one can hear Hilaly speak. He says,"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 (India's) intention was to strike at a madrasa where 300 children were studying. This means that your (India's) intention was to kill 300 people. They were not there, this was wrong, the strike did not happen so you threw your bomb in a football field.)"
We found that in the viral video, there is an abrupt editing done at around 0:7-0:9 seconds. Hence, when he says "marna (to kill)" it sounds as if Hilaly said "mara (killed)". The pronunciation of 'n' has been edited out. Moreover, in the viral video, the statement by Hilaly where he says that the plan did not work out and hence they bombed a football field, was also edited from the video.
We compared a screenshot of viral video and edited video. On comparison, we found out that the viral video is inverted and screen-recorded. Also, the original video shows the damaged trees of Balakot in the bottom of the screen; while the viral video showed the image of Prime Minister Narendra Modi in Indian Army's uniform. Moreover, in the viral video, all the tickers were removed, while it is present in the original video.
Later Zafer Hilaly refuted the claim. In his tweet, Hilaly called out The Times of India for publishing a story based on an edited video. He also tweeted his original video.
Many Indian media houses later took down the report of former Pakistani diplomat admitting 300 people killed in Balakot strike. CNN News 18 later put out a clarification on the video saying, "The following news story carried by CNN-News18 was taken from a leading News agency that had reported that Agha Hilaly made the statement during a TV new debate on a Pakistani Urdu channel. However, the information has turned out to be false as the video clip cited by the Agency was doctored. The inadvertent error is deeply regretted."
Asian News International (ANI), a media agency that offers syndicated multimedia news feed to multiple news-bureaus in India and beyond, has earlier covered the story which was distributed to multiple media houses. Later ANI took down the news article without giving any clarification.
The claim was earlier debunked by Altnews.
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