LAHORE, March 1, 2019 (Xinhua) -- Photo released by Pakistan's Inter-Services Public Relations (ISPR) on March 1, 2019 shows captured Indian pilot Abhinandan Varthaman (R) standing at Wagah border crossing during a handover ceremony in eastern Pakistan's Lahore. (Xinhua/ISPR/IANS)

New Delhi, May 4: Prime Minister Narendra Modi on Saturday said that the Indian air strike on a terrorist camp in Pakistan’s Balakot would have been ranked “among one of the major military operations of the world”, had it not been for “politics”.

In an interview to India TV’s Chairman and Editor-in-Chief Rajat Sharma in front of nearly 2,500 people at Jawaharlal Nehru Stadium, Modi was asked what had prompted the early release of captured Indian Air Force pilot, Wing Commander Abhinandan Varthaman. The PM replied cryptically: “That was a (terrible) night. There are many mysteries buried in (the darkness of) that night. Let those mysteries stay where they are,” he added.

Speaking at length about the air strike on Balakot, Modi said in the absence of the general election, the air strike would have ranked among one of the major military operations of the world.

Indian hero and IAF pilot Abhinandan Varthaman

In a sharp jibe at the Opposition, who sought credible evidence of the strike, he said: “Any citizen of India has the right to demand evidence… political leaders also have the right to demand evidence, but then, accepting those evidences is also their responsibility. The problem (with Opposition) is they demand and demand, but do not accept. The biggest evidence (of Balakot air strike) is Pakistan itself.”

He argued that after the air strike, Pakistan was in a quandary. “If it admitted that the air strike caused damage, the world would know that there was a terrorist camp there. It was a lone residential building housing 600 people on a hill surrounded by trees. So, to hide this, they had to do something,” he added.

Recounting the sequence of events on the day of the strike, Modi said: “As per our strategy, we were to meet in the morning to plan something. At 3.30 a.m., when the operation was over, and our pilots and aircraft returned, took off their uniforms and were sipping tea and joking among themselves… But I was curious, to find out how the world took this. I started surfing online for international news.”

He said that at 5.15 a.m., the Pakistan Army tweeted saying that Indian aircraft had dropped their payload and left. Such a reaction was self-explanatory that they were trying to gain sympathy, he added.

On the dogfight between Indian and Pakistan jets, a day after the air strike, Modi said it was a Pakistan fighter plane which had crashed, and its pilot died, but they said that an Indian plane was downed.

“They had lost their balance, and they are still to come out of that trauma,” he added.

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