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Was it really a surgical strike?

September 30, 2016

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SRINAGAR: Kashmiris on Thursday offer funeral prayers in absentia for the Pakistani soldiers killed in overnight firing by Indian forces on the Pakistani side of the Line of Control.—AP
SRINAGAR: Kashmiris on Thursday offer funeral prayers in absentia for the Pakistani soldiers killed in overnight firing by Indian forces on the Pakistani side of the Line of Control.—AP

KARACHI: A clear picture of what really transpired in the wee hours of Thursday resulting in the death of at least two Pakistani soldiers at the LoC has still not emerged despite raucous reporting by the media at home and across the border.

Even in India, sceptics questioned the scant details provided by officials. Indian politician Sitaram Yechury was seen on TV telling reporters that no details were given other than that the targets were in two sectors.

The Indian claim and Pakistan’s counter-claim have left people on both sides scratching their heads as to whether Indian forces did indeed cross into Pakistan. Was this a surgical strike or a typical LoC violation? Why are details on both sides so murky?

Lt Gen Bajwa, Director General of Inter-Services Public Relations, the media affairs wing of Pakistan military, says 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 had been chanting the “surgical strike” mantra for the consumption of its citizens.

Retired Air Marshal Shahzad Chaudhry agrees. “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 on Thursday, 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 positioned on launch pads along the LoC”.

Security analyst 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 across the LoC.”

Mr Askari also maintains 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?”

“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,” he said.

Mystery of the Indian soldier

The mystery surrounding the episode deepened late Thursday night when sources on both sides reported that an Indian soldier was in Pakistani custody. Security sources in Pakistan said that a 22-year-old Indian soldier was in Pakistani custody, but did not issue an official confirmation as it may obliquely suggest that an incursion was made by Indian forces.

Taking advantage of this information gap, India maintained that a soldier had accidentally crossed the LoC so it can request his return under existing mechanisms.

“It is confirmed one soldier from 37 Rashtriya Rifles with weapons has inadvertently crossed over to the Pakistan side of the Line of Control,” an Indian army official said in New Delhi, according to Reuters.

Published in Dawn, September 30th, 2016