Islamabad claims vindication after it emerges Indian journalist Arnab Goswami knew beforehand about Balakot airstrike that brought India and Pakistan to the brink of war.
Pakistan has ratcheted up pressure on India after it emerged that New Delhi passed on information about a cross-border air strike in 2019 to a sympathetic journalist who used it to create media hype.
That intrusion of Indian jets deep inside Pakistan’s Balakot region, some 50 km from the border, brought the two nuclear-armed nations to the brink of war. In response to the strike, Pakistan shot down an Indian jet and captured a pilot who was later released as a gesture of goodwill.
Tensions had soared after a suicde attack in the Pulwama region of India-administered Kashmir on November 13, 2019, killed 40 police recruits. Prime Minister Narendra Modi blamed Islamabad, which rejected any involvement, saying the sucide bomber was a local Kashmiri.
There’s no evidence that the Indian air raid destroyed an alleged terrorist camp or killed any militants. Yet Arnab Goswami, the editor of the Mumbai-based Republic TV, for weeks ran shows on what he called a “mega super strike”.
Goswami is known for getting into shouting matches with his hosts and exaggerating news details to settle political scores. He has openly backed Modi’s Hindu-nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) which has been in power since 2014.
A leaked transcript of a WhatsApp conversation Goswami had with Partho Dasgupta, the former head of Broadcast Audience Research Council, a TV rating agency, shows that he knew about the planned Indian air strike.
They discussed how a “bigger than a normal strike” will boost Modi’s standing ahead of national elections, which were two months away at the time.
“On another note something big will happen,” Goswami texted Dasgupta on February 23, three days before the Balakot air raid. Dasgupta asked if it had to with Dawood Ibrahim, a criminal mastermind India blames for the 1993 Mumbai bombings. When Goswami said it was about Pakistan, Dasgupta replied “it’s good for big man in this season”and that “he will sweep polls then” referring to Modi’s re-election bid.
Three days before Balakot strike, #ArnabGoswami said ‘something major will happen on Whats App chat, 3 days later on February 26 2019 the Indian Air Force carried out a strike targeting Jaish-e-Mohammad training camp in the Pakistani town of Balakot. 🤔 #AntiNationalBJPArnab 👇 pic.twitter.com/C1btgyOJMy— Mr Merchant ✋ (@merchant_81) January 17, 2021
Goswami along with a few other TV industry executives are under investigation for allegedly manipulating the rating system which decides viewership and advertisement rates. The WhatsApp conversation is part of a police investigation into the scandal.
Pakistan’s foreign office was quick to respond to the Goswami scandal, saying that the leaks have vindicated Islamabad’s position.
“The latest revelations further confirm what Pakistan has consistently pointed out: The BJP government stages 'false-flag' operations; maligns Pakistan with terrorism-related allegations; stokes hyper-nationalism in the country; claims to have launched so-called 'surgical strike[s]'; and then deviously manipulates national sentiment in its bid to win elections. The pattern is unmistakable, and has been repeated to suit the RSS [ Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh]-BJP regime’s electoral calculations," the foreign office said in a statement.
“The transcripts also illustrate the unholy nexus between the ‘Hindutva’ regime and its cronies in the Indian media.”
Pakistan’s Foriegn Minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi said the issue will be raised internationally.
In recent weeks, the government of Prime Minister Imran Khan has increased international efforts to highlight India’s alleged hand behind terrorist attacks in his country.
In November it submitted a dossier to the UN that carried details about how New Delhi uses its spy network to foment dissent and chaos in a few Pakistani regions.
While both New Delhi and Islamabad have regularly accused each other of being behind cross border terrorist acts, this time around Pakistani officials have come out with far more details than before.
For instance, the dossier contains audio recordings and names of people who Pakistan alleges work for India’s spy agency, RAW.
The controversy has unfolded just weeks after a European think tank exposed how India was using a network of fake news websites to malign Pakistan and back separatist groups which are on Islamabad’s terror list.
Within India, the WhatsApp leaks have created a political firestorm with opposition Congress calling for an enquiry into how military secrets were passed onto a journalist who used them to boost TRPs.
“The leaked WhatsApp chats reveal three reprehensible things requiring serious inquiry: leaking of military secrets to a TV channel for its commercial purposes; a "nationalist" gloating over the death of 40 jawans as an "attack we have won like crazy”, and a fraudulent manipulation of TRPs,” Shashi Tharoor, a Congress leader said.