The news on Monday morning of the National Security Advisors of India and Pakistan having finally talked to each other after two weeks of escalating tensions could not have come at a better time. For it is the first sign of concrete measures being taken to scale down the levels of rhetoric that have seen no sign of subsiding after 18 soldiers were killed in an attack on the Army camp in Uri on September 18.
Pakistan has so far flatly sought to deny Indian army’s claim that it had conducted preemptive surgical strikes at “terrorist launch pads” along the Line of Control on September 29. Pakistan military took a group of nearly 40 journalists to the areas claimed to have been struck by Indian forces.
Even as the war of words between the two countries was ratcheting up, news came of a militant attack on an Indian Army and BSF camp in Baramulla in Jammu & Kashmir late on Sunday night. While the attack was foiled, a BSF soldier was killed, raising fresh worries about the efficacy of the surgical strikes.
The last few days have also seen a growing demand, both domestically and internationally, for the Indian government to release evidence it claims to have in its possession about the strikes that Pakistan has strenuously denied.
Military and intelligence sources familiar with the surgical strikes reiterated to Scroll.in that the evidence was available, but would be shared only “at an opportune time”.
New Delhi would continue to monitor Islamabad’s denials, a senior security analyst pointed out, before taking a call to release the video footage of the strikes across the LoC.
“It is good to maintain some ambiguity at this stage,” the security analyst said, “but this will be a political decision on when to release it and share it with everyone.”
Meanwhile, Pakistan’s claim was seemingly bolstered when the United Nations Military Observers Group for India and Pakistan, a body created to monitor military activity on both sides of Kashmir, stated that it had not observed any such strike as was claimed by India. This was immediately rejected by Syed Akbaruddin, India’s permanent representative to the United Nations in New York.
"To take journalists to the general area of our targets does not establish anything,” a senior military official familiar with the operation said. He also claimed that “the UNMOGIP is not in a position to observe anything”.
While India has dismissed Pakistan’s denials, questions about the efficacy of the raid continue to be raised, even though the consensus among Indian security experts, veteran and serving officials seems to be that the operations did take place.
But the lack of any evidence and Pakistan’s denial have ensured that the subject remains a debating point on social media. Doubts have also been raised about the claims of “significant casualties” made by the Director General of Military Operations Lieutenant General Ranbir Singh, as even some of the Indian officials have wondered if this might have been an exaggeration.
A senior intelligence official, not involved in the operations but tasked with monitoring all terrorism activity, pointed out that even the usual communication channels used by militants were silent. “Usually there is a lot of chatter that is intercepted by Signals’ intelligence or intercepted calls that discuss the damage suffered by the militant outfits," the official said. "This time we have not heard anything so far." While he also cautioned that such a silence could have been orchestrated by Pakistan’s Inter Services Intelligence, he described the situation as “most unusual after a strike”.
This has also led to a growing clamour for the Indian government to release any additional information or evidence that can be used to further isolate Pakistan. During the Kargil War, Pakistan had denied its role in occupying the heights overlooking National Highway 1A that runs from Srinagar to Leh in Jammu & Kashmir. However, an intercepted call by India’s external intelligence agency, Research and Analysis Wing between General Pervez Musharraf and his Chief of General Staff, Lieutenant General Mohammed Aziz, proved beyond doubt that the Pakistani Army was involved in planning the intrusions into Kargil.
The evidence of the call was sent across to then Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif through senior journalist and founder of the Observer Research Foundation RK Mishra and then joint secretary in the Ministry of External Affairs Vivek Katju. This was also shared with several countries across the globe and proved to be a turning point in the war.
So far, Indian’s Foreign Secretary has carried out detailed briefings for ambassadors and high commissioners from several countries on September 29, where information on details of infiltration attempts and Pakistan’s role were shared. However, no details of the surgical strikes were shared with them. This has created an issue with the foreign diplomats unsure about Indian claims. Many of them have checked with their counterparts in Islamabad, and continue to be sceptical of Indian claims, diplomatic sources told Scroll.in.
As has been said before, the surgical strikes, carried out by Indian Special Forces on September 29, are not the first and are unlikely to be the last. What has changed is that the Indian government chose to declare them openly, clearly indicating a major shift in strategy.
Despite there being no confirmation around claims that the Indian forces caused “significant casualties”, the fact that a pre-emptive strike was ordered across the LoC by itself, officials said, will be the new strategy henceforth to dissuade Pakistani military’s support to militancy in Jammu and Kashmir.
Between 1998 and 2014, there have been several strikes by Indian forces across the LoC. Just after the Kargil war, Captain Gurjinder Singh Suri, posted on the LoC with 12 Bihar battalion took a team of ghataks (infantry battalion commandos) across the LoC to take out Pakistani posts in retaliation of an earlier attack. While Captain Suri was killed in the assault, he was posthumously awarded the Maha Vir Chakra, India’s second-highest military gallantry award.
On March 2, 2000, Lashkar-e-Taiba militants massacred 35 Sikhs leading to a major covert operation. A team from 9 Para (Special Forces) was sanctioned by Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee’s government to carry out a raid inside Pakistan. Led by a Major, the Special Forces team went into Pakistan and came back after killing over 28 Pakistani soldiers and militants. The proof of their action was never disputed.
Similar raids took place in 2007 and 2013, in retaliation for attacks against Indian military targets.
None of the earlier covert and undeclared raids proved to be an adequate deterrence for Pakistan’s military to aid the militancy in India. It is this, in addition to assuaging the public sentiment, that led to the need for a declared strategy of carrying out pre-emptive strikes, but their efficacy needs to be evaluated over a period of time.
With Pakistan’s Army Chief Raheel Sharif expected to retire in November, there are apprehension of a response to the surgical strikes, even though Pakistan has officially denied the strikes so far. The resumption of talks between the two nations has yielded some gains in the past and the call between Indian National Security Advisor Ajit Doval and his Pakistani counterpart General Nasir Khan Janjua indicates that New Delhi and Islamabad are prepared to pull back from the brink for now.