Indian commandos carried out a series of lightning strikes early on Thursday morning (September 29) along the de facto border with Pakistan in Kashmir, provoking furious charges of “naked aggression” from its nuclear-armed neighbour.
Amid anger in India over a recent deadly assault on one of its army bases in Kashmir, officials said troops had conducted “surgical strikes” several kilometres inside the Pakistan-controlled side of the disputed territory to prevent attacks being planned on major Indian cities.
The strikes aimed at “neutralising the terrorists” had caused “multiple casualties”, according to Indian officials.
Pakistan said two of its soldiers had been killed and nine more wounded in what it described as small arms fire and dismissed the talk of surgical strikes as an “illusion” designed to whip up “media hype”.
Lieutenant General Ranbir Singh, India’s director-general of military operations, announced news of the strikes in New Delhi, sending shares on the Indian stock market sliding nearly two per cent.
“Some terrorist teams had positioned themselves at launchpads along the Line of Control,” Singh told reporters.
“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.”
Singh said the decision to launch the strikes was taken following intelligence that militants were planning “to carry out infiltration and terrorist strikes in Jammu and Kashmir and various other metros” in India.
He said he had called his Pakistani counterpart to inform him of the operation. India later briefed opposition parties and foreign ambassadors in New Delhi, but stopped short of disclosing operational details.
A senior government source said commandos carried out the strikes some way across the unofficial border known as the Line of Control (LoC), beginning after midnight and finishing before dawn.
“They were conducted two-three kilometres across the LoC,” the source told reporters on condition of anonymity.
“Seven launchpads were targeted. The defence minister himself monitored the ops and the Indian side did not suffer any casualties.”
Another Indian government official source put the number of dead on the Pakistani side in “double digits”.
Most of the casualties were “terrorists”, said the source, insisting India had not been targeting the Pakistani army.
India announced its retaliation at a news conference in New Delhi that was hurriedly called, only to be delayed, as prime minister Narendra 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.”
US national security Adviser Susan Rice spoke with her Indian counterpart, Ajit Doval, before news of the Indian cross-border operation broke, the White House said.
Rice discussed deepening collaboration between the United States and India on counter-terrorism and urged Pakistan to combat and delegitimise individuals and entities designated by the United Nations as terrorists.
Meanwhile, Pakistan’s defence minister Khawaja Asif said two Pakistani soldiers were killed and nine wounded as authorities in Islamabad played down the scale of the strikes.
“There has been no surgical strike by India, instead there had been cross-border fire initiated and conducted by India,” said a military statement.
“As per rules of engagement same was strongly and befittingly responded by Pakistani troops.”
Pakistani prime minister Nawaz Sharif “strongly condemned the unprovoked and naked aggression of Indian forces”.
Tensions between the two rivals have been at boiling point since the Indian government accused Pakistan-based militants of launching an assault on an army base in Kashmir earlier this month that killed 18 soldiers.
India has also been on a diplomatic drive to isolate nuclear-armed Pakistan since the raid on September 18, the worst such attack in more than a decade.
On Tuesday, India said Modi would not attend a regional summit in Islamabad in November in a major snub to its neighbour.
Ashok K Mehta, a retired major general in the Indian army, said it was the first time in a decade that officials in New Delhi had acknowledged its troops had crossed into the Pakistani side of the LoC.
“We have to see whether the Pakistani army will respond in kind…. Now the the ball is in Pakistan’s court if they want to escalate things.”
Residents on the Pakistani side of the LoC were hunkering down over fears the situation could unravel further.
“I did not send my children to school today. The situation is very tense,” said Tahir Iqbal, who runs a grocery in the town of Athmuqam.
There was similar foreboding on the Indian side, as villagers living along the LoC and the undisputed international border further south in the state were placed on alert to evacuate if required.
Kashmir has been divided between India and Pakistan since gaining independence from Britain seven decades ago.
The Indian-controlled part of the picturesque territory has a Muslim majority and there are a number of armed separatist groups who are fighting to break free from New Delhi.
India has said the attack on the Uri army base in Kashmir was carried out by a Pakistan-based group called Jaish-e Mohammed.
Tensions had already been high in the region since the Indian army killed a leading Kashmiri separatist in a gunfight in early July, sparking a series of protests that have been staged in defiance of curfew orders.
More than 80 people have been killed in the Indian-controlled part of Kashmir since July, many shot by the army during the protests. (AFP, Reuters)