IN­DIA HITS TER­ROR HUBS ACROSS LoC Pak­istan calls it a lie, says it was bor­der fir­ing


Hindustan Times ST (Mumbai) - HT Navi Mumbai Live - - FRONT PAGE - Rahul Singh rahul.singh@hin­dus­tan­ Im­tiaz Ah­mad let­ters@hin­dus­tan­

In­dia said on Thurs­day it car­ried out “sur­gi­cal strikes” along its de-facto bor­der with Pak­istan, tak­ing out sev­eral “launch­pads”, or tem­po­rary shel­ters, mil­i­tants were pre­par­ing to use to cross over into the coun­try.

The strikes were In­dia’s first direct mil­i­tary re­sponse to the at­tack on the Uri army base ear­lier this month that killed 18 In­dian sol­diers and was blamed on Pak­istan-based mil­i­tants.

The cross-bor­der ac­tion came days af­ter New Delhi re­viewed its 56-year-old In­dus Waters Treaty with Pak­istan and pulled out of the re­gional Saarc Sum­mit in Is­lam­abad as part of a wider diplo­matic of­fen­sive to iso­late its net­tle­some neigh­bour.

The move could have wide do­mes­tic and se­cu­rity im­pli­ca­tions for In­dia, where a nar­ra­tive of a tri­umphant mil­i­tary cam­paign could in­flu­ence a se­ries of im­pend­ing state polls. It could also trigger a pos­si­ble es­ca­la­tion in ten­sions along the Line of Con­trol (LoC), or the de­facto bor­der between In­dia and Pak­istan.

Thurs­day’s ac­tion is be­ing seen as Prime Minister Naren­dra Modi fol­low­ing through on his warn­ing that those re­spon­si­ble for the Uri at­tack “would not go un­pun­ished”. The army had also said it would avenge the at­tack, which killed 18 In­dian sol­diers on Septem­ber 18, at a time and place of its choos­ing.

The “sur­gi­cal strikes” could force mil­i­tants across the LoC to shift their sanc­tu­ar­ies fur­ther back into Pak­istani ter­ri­tory, bol­ster­ing the im­age of In­dian forces as a ca­pa­ble strik­ing power. Such an im­age could also help tamp down vi­o­lence in Kash­mir, where two months of street protests over the killing of mil­i­tant Burhan Wani have left more than 85 peo­ple dead.

Lt Gen Ran­bir Singh, chief of In­dia’s mil­i­tary op­er­a­tions, told a press con­fer­ence that the “launch­pads” were tar­geted af­ter a week of sur­veil­lance.

“Sig­nif­i­cant ca­su­al­ties have been caused to these ter­ror­ists and those who are try­ing to sup­port them,” Singh said, with­out giv­ing details of ca­su­al­ties. But sources said the army had in­formed the govern­ment that “35-40 peo­ple” — who could be ter­ror­ists or han­dlers or “guides” — had been killed. Sol­diers guard the for­ward posts in Hamir­pur area near Bhim­ber Gali, close to where Wed­nes­day’s strikes took place.

Pak­istan on Thurs­day de­nied that In­dian troops had car­ried out sur­gi­cal strikes across the Line of Con­trol, say­ing it had re­sponded to “cross-bor­der fire” from the In­dian side that killed two sol­diers and in­jured nine more.

For­eign sec­re­tary Aizaz Chaudhry sum­moned In­dian en­voy Gau­tam Bam­bawale on Thurs­day evening and re­jected the “so-called sur­gi­cal strikes” and con­demned what he de­scribed as “un­pro­voked fir­ing” by In­dian forces on the LoC, state-run Ra­dio Pak­istan said.

Chaudhry said the Pak­istan mil­i­tary “will con­tinue to give a be­fit­ting re­sponse to any act of ag­gres­sion”. He added that In­dia had es­ca­lated ten­sions on the LoC to di­vert attention from the “grave hu­man rights sit­u­a­tion” in Kash­mir.

Pak­istan’s civil and mil­i­tary lead­er­ship re­acted af­ter In­dia’s Direc­tor Gen­eral of Mil­i­tary Op­er­a­tions (DGMO) Lt Gen Ran­bir Singh said In­dian sol­diers con­ducted sur­gi­cal strikes on ter­ror­ist launch pads across the LoC, caus­ing sig­nif­i­cant ca­su­al­ties.

The first re­ac­tion came from the Pak­istan mil­i­tary’s me­dia arm, which said in a strongly worded state­ment: “There has been no sur­gi­cal strike by In­dia, in­stead there had been cross-bor­der fire ini­ti­ated and con­ducted by In­dia which is ex­is­ten­tial phe­nom­e­non.”

The mil­i­tary dis­missed the sur­gi­cal strikes as an “il­lu­sion”, while de­fence minister Khawaja Asif re­ferred to them as “a lie”. The mil­i­tary also said “if there is a sur­gi­cal strike on Pak­istani soil, same will be strongly re­sponded”.

Asif said Pak­istani troops had re­sponded to “small weapons fire in five sec­tors along the LoC” that killed two sol­diers and in­jured nine oth­ers. “If In­dia tries to do this again, we will re­spond force­fully,” said Asif, who had on Mon­day warned that Pak­istan would use its nu­clear weapons to an­ni­hi­late In­dia if the coun­try’s sur­vival was threat­ened.

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