[Indian officials said that ground troops crossed the de facto border shortly after midnight and destroyed a handful of terrorist camps in Pakistani-controlled territory, inflicting “significant casualties” and returning across the Line of Control before dawn.]
By Ellen Barry and Salman Masood
India announced that it had launched strikes on suspected militants in
Pakistani-controlled Kashmir, but Pakistan played down the operation.
By REUTERS on Publish Date September 29, 2016.
Photo by Reuters. Watch in Times Video »
NEW DELHI — India announced on Thursday that it had carried out early morning “surgical strikes” on terrorist camps in Pakistani-controlled Kashmir, a step that risks escalating the conflict between the two nuclear powers.
However, Pakistan denied that a cross-border strike had taken place, saying that Indian troops had fired small arms across the Line of Control, killing two soldiers and injuring nine.
A senior Pakistani security official, speaking on the condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to speak publicly, said that Pakistan would consider a cross-border strike by India an act of war.
The official warned that Pakistan could use tactical nuclear weapons in self-defense if India initiates a war.
The Indian operation, if it occurred as described in Delhi, would be precedent setting. Though India’s military has almost certainly carried out cross-border raids, the government has never publicly announced them, even during the brief conflict in Kargil in 1999.
Indian officials said that ground troops crossed the de facto border shortly after midnight and destroyed a handful of terrorist camps in Pakistani-controlled territory, inflicting “significant casualties” and returning across the Line of Control before dawn.
The operation was planned in retaliation for two attacks this month on Indian positions, including one that killed 19 Indian soldiers.
Thursday’s announcement suggests that Prime Minister Narendra Modi of India is more confident than his predecessors that India can use force against Pakistan without risking an escalation into full-scale war.
“They think that the escalation ceiling, beyond which Pakistan will be forced to respond, is higher than previously assessed, and therefore they are willing to do more than India has done previously,” said Ashok Malik, a senior fellow at the Observer Research Foundation, a policy organization based in New Delhi.
“India was exercising cross-L.O.C. options that were very close to doing nothing,” he said, referring to the Line of Control. “It is willing to go a little further.”
Delhi may also be counting on intervention from Washington, which is cultivating a closer strategic relationship with India, and which could put pressure on Pakistan not to retaliate, said Myra MacDonald, the author of “Defeat is an Orphan: How Pakistan Lost the Great South Asian War.”
“If it does turn out to be a one-off, yes, they could have set a new norm in terms of how they respond to attacks,” she said. The shift, she said, reflected India’s growing confidence in its “diplomatic cover.”
“Nobody is really going rally to support Pakistan on this,” she said.
Hours before the strike was reportedly begun, the United States national security adviser, Susan E. Rice, spoke by telephone with her Indian counterpart, Ajit Doval. Ms. Rice’s office released a statement critical of Pakistan, saying the United States expects Islamabad to “take effective action” to combat terrorists groups.
The news sent tremors through Indian financial markets, with the country’s benchmark stock index, the Sensex, plunging 465 points, or around 1.6 percent. But social media erupted with congratulations for Mr. Modi.
Local residents reported heavy shelling near the Pakistani border, and villagers took shelter in underground bunkers used during previous violations of the cease-fire along the Line of Control.
Arun Khajuria, who lives in the Poonch district, near where the raid took place, said he woke his family at 5:30 a.m. and found many of his neighbors already in the bunker. The shelling ended two hours later, he said.
The chief minister of Punjab advised civilians living within six miles of the Pakistani border to seek “safer locations.”
Indian officials said the move had been a response to two terrorist attacks on Indian positions this month.
Lt. Gen. Ranbir Singh, the Indian director general of military operations, said India received “very credible and specific information” on Wednesday that teams of militants had positioned themselves at bases and were planning attacks on Indian-controlled Kashmir and “in various other metros in our country.”
“Significant casualties have been caused to the terrorists and those who are trying to support them,” he said, adding that he had spoken to his Pakistani counterpart on Thursday and “shared with him the operations we had conducted last night.”
Pakistani military officials dismissed India’s claims, saying India had simply targeted military positions along the Line of Control. Lt. Gen. Asim Saleem Bajwa, a spokesman for the Pakistani army, called the reports “an illusion” and “a fabrication of the truth.”
Nevertheless, Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif announced a series of high-level meetings over the coming days, suggesting that Islamabad is contemplating how to respond.
“No external force has the capability or capacity to challenge the sovereignty and territorial integrity of Pakistan,” Mr. Sharif said in a statement. “The entire nation is standing behind our valiant Armed Forces.”
Hasan Askari Rizvi, a prominent Pakistani defense analyst, said many in Pakistan saw India’s announcement as playing to domestic sentiments. “There was pressure on the Indian government,” he said. “Hence, they are portraying this as a surgical strike to shape public opinion.”
Follow Ellen Barry on Twitter @EllenBarryNYT.
Hari Kumar contributed reporting from New Delhi, Salman Masood from Islamabad, Pakistan, and Sameer Yasir from Srinagar, Kashmir.