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Escalation or brinkmanship at LoC?

September 30, 2016

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HAVILDAR Jumma Khan (left) and Naik Imtiaz who lost their lives in the Indian firing, according to ISPR.
HAVILDAR Jumma Khan (left) and Naik Imtiaz who lost their lives in the Indian firing, according to ISPR.
  • • India says its troops made ‘surgical strike’ across LoC; Pakistan rejects claim
  • • DGMOs speak over the phone
  • • Delhi’s envoy summoned to FO

ISLAMABAD: The crisis in Pakistan and India over the events in held Kashmir dangerously escalated on Thursday after Indian forces fired across the Line of Control (LoC) in Azad Jammu and Kashmir killing at least two Pakistan Army soldiers while calling it surgical strikes against “terrorism launch pads”.

The claim was immediately dismissed by Pakistan, which said India mischaracterised cross-LoC firing as surgical strikes and made it clear that any such attempt would be responded strongly.

The events, which followed months of tensions over protests in India-held Kashmir and the Uri army camp attack earlier this month in which 18 Indian soldiers were killed, started around midnight Wednesday and continued till the early hours of Thursday morning according to the Indian side and about 8am as per the Pakistani officials.

Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi had pledged punishment for the “perpetrators” soon after the Uri attack.

Unlike the past when both sides differed over who started the firing, this time the two had conflicting accounts of what happened.

The Inter-Services Public Relations (ISPR), the military’s media division, described it as a ceasefire violation by India.

The exchanges took place along most of the LoC — Iftikharabad (Cham Jorian), Bhimber, Hotspring, Kel (Dhundial) and Leppa sectors. According to Pakistan’s military officials, the fiercest clashes apparently occurred in Hotspring sector where Pakistan lost two of its soldiers, identified as Naik Imtiaz and Havildar Jumma Khan, and there were also reports of Indian casualties. “We responded befittingly to Indian firing. But we do not have any knowledge of the extent of casualties on the other side,” military spokesman Lt Gen Asim Bajwa told Dawn over the phone.

Indian Director General of Military Operations Lt Gen Ranbir Singh told a press conference in New Delhi that seven “terrorism launch pads” across the LoC were targeted after weeklong surveillance. “Signifi­cant casualties have been caused to these terrorists and those who are trying to support them,” claimed Lt Gen Singh.

Indian media quoted sources as having said that commandos from 2, 4 and 9 Parachute Regiments were airdropped near LoC from where they crossed over into the Pakistani side from Kupawara and Poonch districts that targeted “sanctuaries” situated one to three kilometres from the LoC.

The Indian army said the surgical strikes were aimed at neutralizing alleged militants who had “positioned themselves at launch pads with the aim to carry out strikes in Jammu and Kashmir and other metros.”

NDTV said there were no Indian casualties in the strikes.

There was an air of self-congratulation within the ruling establishment with BJP president Amit Shah leading the chorus. Prime Minister Narendra Modi who attended a security briefing in the morning later informed President Pranab Mukherjee and former prime minister Manmohan Singh about the event.

The surgical strikes or even their claim would be handy in the clutch of do-or-die elections for the BJP, the main ones being Punjab and Uttar Pradesh.

The public statement by India was made after Modi chaired a national security meeting.

Indian and Pakistani DGMOs during the day conversed over telephone about the events over the past night.

“I have just spoken to the Pakistani director general of military operations and explained our concerns and also shared with him the operations we had conducted last night,” said Lt Gen Singh.

The telephonic conversation between the two DGMOs was confirmed by Pakistani military officials. However, the military officials said that DGMO Maj Gen Sahir Shamshad Mirza contradicted his Indian counterpart’s claims.

Rejecting Indian claims, Lt Gen Bajwa told Dawn that there was no activity on our side of the LoC. “The notion of surgical strike linked to alleged terrorists’ bases is an illusion being deliberately generated by India to create false effects,” an ISPR statement had earlier said, adding that the re-branding of cross border fire as surgical strike was fabrication of truth.

“Pakistan has made it clear that if there is a surgical strike on Pakistani soil, same will be strongly responded,” the ISPR further said.

Media outlets also reported the capture of an Indian soldier identified as Bashan Chohan by Pakistani troops. However, Lt Gen Bajwa while denying this said no Indian soldier was in Pakistani captivity.

Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif condemned ceasefire violation by India as “unprovoked and naked aggression”.

“No external force has the capability or capacity to challenge the sovereignty and territorial integrity of Pakistan,” the prime minister asserted.

Army Chief Gen Raheel Sharif avoided giving a statement on the crisis that kept the country on a knife-edge for the whole day although he had at least two interactions in the day on which ISPR issued statements — a meeting with members of the national assembly’s standing committee on defence production and the finals of Fourth COAS Young Soldiers Inter-Central PACES (Physical Agility and Combat Efficiency System) Championship at Frontier Force Centre, Abbotabad, which he witnessed.

Azad Kashmir President Masood Khan, meanwhile, called on the international community to compel India to desist from engaging in “reckless behaviour fraught with grave risks for the peace and security of the region”.

“India’s conduct is irresponsible and designed to escalate the situation and push the region towards war and strife,” he said.

Indian High Commissioner Gautam Bambawale was summoned to the foreign office to receive a protest over “baseless claim” of surgical strikes and death of two soldiers in Indian firing on a Pakistani post.

“The foreign secretary noted that India has deliberately escalated tensions at the LoC in order to divert the attention of the international community from the grave situation in the Indian occupied Jammu and Kashmir, where the Indian occupation forces have unleashed a reign of terror against innocent and defenceless people,” a foreign office statement said.

The government has convened a meeting of the federal cabinet on Friday on the evolving situation. It would be followed by a meeting of the cabinet committee on national security on Tuesday, which would also be attended by the provincial chief ministers.

A joint session of parliament is being summoned on Wednesday.

The Prime Minister’s Office said the joint session would “reaffirm the national resolve for safeguarding the sovereignty and preserving the territorial integrity of the motherland against any kind of external or internal threat as well as reiterating the moral, political and diplomatic support to the people of IOK.”

Our correspondent in New Delhi contributed to this report

Published in Dawn, September 30th, 2016