India launches ‘surgical strikes’ on militants in Pakistan

Cross-border operation – denied by Pakistan – ratchets up tensions between neighbours

Indian paramilitary soldiers patrol in Srinagar, the summer capital of Indian Kashmir, on Thursday. Photograph: Farooq Khan/EPA

Indian paramilitary soldiers patrol in Srinagar, the summer capital of Indian Kashmir, on Thursday. Photograph: Farooq Khan/EPA

 

India has claimed its army successfully launched “surgical strikes” on suspected militant groups in Pakistan-administered Kashmir early on Thursday, in a move guaranteed to further escalate tension between the nuclear-armed neighbours.

“The operations were focused to ensure that these terrorists do not succeed in their design of infiltration [into India], endangering Indian lives,” the army’s director general of military operations Lieut Gen Ranbir Singh told the media in New Delhi.

He said the raid had inflicted “significant casualties” on the terrorists and their supporters, in a direct reference to Pakistan’s army, which Delhi blames for backing Islamic militant groups that strike frequently across India.

Pakistan’s defence minister Khawaja Muhammad Asif, however, rejected India’s claims, accusing it of killing two of its soldiers and injuring nine in “unprovoked firing” across the disputed Line of Control (LoC) that divides Kashmir between the two countries.

“India is doing this only to please their public and media,” he told a television news channel.

Pakistani military spokesman Lt Gen Asim Bajwa also dismissed Indian claims as “baseless and a lie”, adding that no such incident had occurred on the ground.

Neither side’s assertions could be independently verified.

The purported strike by the Indian army follows the September 18th attack by four gunmen on its camp at Uri adjoining the LoC, in which 19 soldiers died and 30 were injured.

India claims the attackers belonged to the Pakistan-based Jaish-e-Mohammad militant group and were backed by Pakistan’s military and the Inter Services Intelligence Directorate, an allegation Islamabad denies.

At the time prime minister Narendra Modi had declared that those responsible for the attack would be punished. Mr Modi was also under tremendous political pressure domestically to undertake punitive action against Pakistan.

Senior army sources claimed this attack involved special forces who crossed the LoC at seven points to strike at militant bases and training camps.

The operation, in which some 38 militants were reportedly killed, began around midnight and lasted till 4.30am. The Indian army is believed to have suffered no casualties, with just one of its raiding party being injured, sources said.

India’s attack has heightened the possibility of the 2003 ceasefire across the LoC breaking down.

Pakistan’s defence minister Mr Asif confirmed this when he threatened to employ tactical strategic weapons against India in response to any punitive military strike against his country.

“Tactical [nuclear] weapons have been developed for our safety and we haven’t kept these devices just as show pieces” Mr Asif declared in an interview to Pakistan’s SAMAA television channel.

Meanwhile, India’s federal government has directed the state government in Punjab state, adjoining Pakistan, to effect the immediate evacuation of tens of thousands of civilians from villages within 10km of the border, triggering panic in the region.

India and Pakistan have been to war three time since independence in 1947 and fought an 11-week-long military skirmish in 1999 in which 1,200 soldiers died. That clash threatened to escalate into a nuclear exchange, but was neutralised following US intervention.