What is a 'surgical strike'?

Published September 29, 2016

The latest episode in already simmering Pakistan-India relations is a so-called “surgical strike” – an Indian claim made soon after two Pakistani soldiers were killed at the Line of Control in Azad Jammu and Kashmir as reported Thursday.

With the Pakistani military rejecting that the episode was a result of a "surgical strike", the media in both countries is now hotly debating the terminology.

Read: India fires across LoC, two Pakistani soldiers killed

DG ISPR Asim Bajwa

Lt Gen Bajwa, Director General of the Pakistani military’s media wing told Dawn.com that the notion of the deaths being a result of a surgical strike is a false propagation by India.

“How is it possible that the target of a ‘surgical strike’ has no idea it took place?” he said. "This was simply an episode of cross LoC fire that they [India] have been doing. Small arms and mortars were used in the fire, similar to what has been used before...we gave a befitting response."

He added that India has been chanting the “surgical strike” mantra just for the consumption of her citizens.

Retired Air Marshal Shahzad Chaudhry

Retired Air Marshal Shahzad Chaudhry explained the terminology in a phone interview.

“A surgical strike is one that comes as a surprise and is conducted with surgical efficiency. It happens when an entity does the job and comes out. It is not messy. There is no collateral damage,” said Mr Chaudhry.

“On another level, sometimes what happens is that there is knowledge of the strike but an inability to respond.”

Referring to the incident today, Mr Chaudhry said, “What India has done today is an LoC violation. Not a surgical strike.”

He also dismissed India’s claim that it struck at “terrorist teams had positioned themselves on launchpads along the LoC”.

“In a circumstance when there is so much of tension on the border between India and Pakistan, only a fool would believe that a terrorist would actually infiltrate. Both armies are on high alert, so this is absurd.”

Security analyst Hasan Askari

Hasan Askari explains that the term "surgical strike" is usually used to describe military action involving air strikes.

"This was a ground offensive, not a surgical strike. The Indian military initiated cross-fire from their territory," said Mr Askari.

"It is not possible that they entered Pakistani territory because it is all fenced. Entering Pakistani territory would require that they break that fencing. It is likely that they fired from the LoC."

Mr Askari also maintained that Thursday's development mimicked the pattern of earlier cross-border firing. "The LoC violations that occurred in the past happened on exactly this pattern – what have they done today that is different?"

The Indian perspective

The Times of India, however, uses the following terminology:

“For starters, it is not a war or a call for it. Surgical strikes are military operations undertaken by forces across the world to move on the offensive, hit enemy targets and installations, and return to primary positions - all with lightening speed and with the added precaution of suffering limited casualty.”

While the Pakistani military has rejected claims of such a strike and responded with firing, both the Indian military and media persist in reporting it as “surgical” action.

“Some terrorist teams had positioned themselves at launchpads along the Line of Control,” Lieutenant Ranbir Singh, the director-general of Indian military operations, said.

“The Indian army conducted surgical strikes last night at these launchpads."

Indian news reports also quoted sources saying that Indian commandos entered three kilometres across the Line of Control to conduct the 'surgical strikes'.

Despite these claims, the firing from India and resultant casualties of Pakistani soldiers appear to resemble the frequent skirmishes that occur on the LoC between the two nuclear-armed rivals. Analysts in Pakistan feel India is using the term "surgical strike" to pander to Indian citizens who have been demanding action in the wake of the attack on India's military base in Uri, which resulted in the death of two soldiers.

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