INDIA said this morning (29) that it had conducted “surgical strikes” on suspected militants preparing to infiltrate from Pakistan Kashmir, making its first direct military response to an attack on an army base it blames on Pakistan.
The cross-border action inflicted “significant casualties”, the Indian army’s head of operations told reporters in New Delhi. It was not immediately clear whether they involved any incursion by Indian troops across the Line of Control that runs through Kashmir.
Pakistan’s military said two of its soldiers had been killed in what it called “cross-border fire” while its Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif condemned what he called India’s “naked aggression”.
The Indian military announcement followed through on Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s warning that those responsible “would not go unpunished” for a September 18 attack on an Indian army base at Uri, near the frontier, that killed 18 soldiers.
News of the strikes was announced at a press conference by Lieutenant General Ranbir Singh, India’s director-general of military operations.
“Some terrorist teams had positioned themselves at launchpads along the Line of Control,” Singh said, describing the intelligence information as “very specific and credible”.
“The Indian army conducted surgical strikes last night at these launchpads. Significant casualties have been caused to these terrorists and those who are trying to support them.
“The operations aimed at neutralising the terrorists have since ceased,” he told a press conference in New Delhi.
Singh said the decision to launch the strikes had been taken after the military determined the launchpads had been set up with “an aim to carry out infiltration and terrorist strikes in Jammu and Kashmir and various other metros in our country.”
“The operations were basically focused to ensure that these terrorists do not succeed in their design of infiltration and carrying out destruction and endangering the lives of citizens of our country.”
He did not say whether the strikes had been carried out by the Indian air force or by ground troops.
Pakistan said two of its soldiers had been killed and nine wounded in an exchange of fire across the de facto border in the Himalayan region.
“There had been cross-border fire initiated and conducted by India, which is an existential phenomenon,” the press wing of the Pakistani military said.
“As per rules of engagement same was strongly and befittingly responded by Pakistani troops.”
India’s action represents a departure from a traditional policy of strategic restraint in the face of what New Delhi sees as cross-border terrorist acts that it believes are sponsored by the Pakistani state.
“The bigger message is that Pakistan is now on notice that cross-border attacks would be part of our response if there are any more terrorist attacks,” said former Indian air vice marshal Manmohan Bahadur.
The strikes raise the possibility of a military escalation between India and Pakistan that would wreck a 2003 Kashmir ceasefire.
They also come at a particularly delicate time for Pakistan, with powerful Army Chief of Staff General Raheel Sharif due to retire shortly and Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif still to decide on a successor.
The Indian stock market fell heavily on the announcement, with the benchmark NSE Index falling by up to two per cent in Mumbai and a key “fear index” that measures volatility rising to a three-month high.
India announced its retaliation at a news conference in New Delhi that was hurriedly called, only to be delayed, as Modi chaired a meeting of his cabinet committee on security to be briefed on the operation.
“The prime minister is clear that this is exactly what we should have done,” a senior government official said on condition of anonymity. “Informing the world about the surgical strike was important today.”
Exchanges of fire took place in the Bhimber, Hot Spring, Kel and Lipa sectors in Pakistan Kashmir, and lasted about six hours, the Pakistani military said earlier.
An Indian army officer in Kashmir said there had been shelling from the Pakistani side of the border into the Nowgam district, near the Line of Control, and the exchange of fire was continuing.
There were no casualties or damage reported on the Indian side of the LoC.
Tension between the south Asian neighbours has been high since an Indian crackdown on dissent in Kashmir following the killing by security forces of Burhan Wani, a young separatist leader, in July.
They rose further when New Delhi blamed Pakistan for the Uri attack, which inflicted the heavies toll on the Indian army of any single incident in 14 years.
India has been ratcheting up pressure on Pakistan, seeking to diplomatically isolate it at the UN General Assembly in New York and winning expressions of condemnation from the US, Britain and France over the attack.
China, another of the permanent members of the UN Security Council and a traditional ally of Pakistan, has urged dialogue between the two antagonists.