In the first significant escalation of hostilities on the Line of Control since the abrogation of Article 370 in Jammu and Kashmir, the Indian Army targeted several terrorist launchpads in Pakistan Occupied Kashmir. India said it was in retaliation to “unprovoked” firing by Pakistan, leaving two Indian soldiers and a civilian dead in border Kupwara district.
Army Chief General Bipin Rawat said the Indian side had “caused severe damage to terrorists’ infrastructure across… Six-10 Pakistani soldiers have been killed, three camps have been destroyed”. He added that they had information that terrorists had arrived at camps in the forward areas and said that, in the last one month, with Diwali approaching, repeated infiltration attempts had been made.
Pakistan summoned Indian Acting High Commissioner Gaurav Ahluwalia in Islamabad and lodged an official protest. Pakistan Army spokesperson Major General Asif Ghafoor accused India of unprovoked ceasefire violations “in Jura, Shahkot & Nousehri Sectors deliberately targeting civilians”, and tweeted, “9 Indian soldiers killed several injured. 2 Indian bunkers destroyed.” The Indian side denied this.
Sixteen years after India and Pakistan signed a ceasefire accord, there has been a spike in the number of violations by Pakistan. July saw 296 such violations, August 307, and September 292. The corresponding figures for 2018 were 13; 44; 102.
The Indian Army had last targeted terrorist launch pads in February this year, after the deadly Pulwama attack, hitting a Jaish-e-Mohammed camp in Balakot, deep inside Pakistan. Earlier, in September 2016, the Army had carried out surgical strikes on terror launch pads across the LoC. Unlike that time, Saturday night’s attacks on terrorist launch pads were conducted from within Indian territory.
The Indian Army accused Pakistan of ceasefire violation in the Tangdhar Sector at multiple places, starting around 11 pm on Saturday and continuing till the wee hours of Sunday, and said Pakistani troops were trying to give covering fire to militants trying to infiltrate. “As a result calibrated escalation of area weapons was undertaken by the Indian side in which terrorist launch pads, Pakistan Army Posts giving incidental protection to these launch pads and certain gun positions were hit… The Indian Army retains the right to respond at a time and place of its choosing in case Pakistan Army continues to assist terrorist activities.”
A Defence spokesperson said that in the Pakistani firing, two soldiers were killed, apart from the death of a civilian and injuries to three. The dead were identified as Armymen Padam Bahadur and Gamil Kumar, and Mohammad Sadiq, 55, a resident of Tangdhar. Pakistani Rangers also resorted to small arms fire and mortar shelling along the international border in Jammu’s Hiranagar Sector in Kathua district on Saturday. While one hut was damaged, the family escaped by hiding in a bunker.
Indian COAS’ statement claiming destruction of 3 alleged camps in AJK is disappointing as he holds a very responsible appointment. There are no camps let alone targeting those. Indian Embassy in Pakistan is welcome to take any foreign diplomat / media to ‘prove’ it on ground.1/2.
— DG ISPR (@OfficialDGISPR) October 20, 2019
Talking to reporters on the sidelines of an event in Delhi, General Rawat said, “An attempt was made in Tangdhar to infiltrate terrorists. We retaliated. Pakistan carried out an attack, firing at our post… It was decided that we target terror camps across (the Line of Control). We had the coordinates of these camps… Ever since the abrogation of special provisions (for Jammu and Kashmir), we are getting repeated inputs about infiltration by terrorists… So far, as per the information available with us, six-10 Pakistani soldiers have been killed and nearly as many terrorists… Three terror camps have been destroyed and on the fourth one also, we have caused severe damage.”
The Army Chief gave the location of the destroyed terror camps as Athmuqam, Kundal Shahi and Jura, and said the Army had information about damage to a camp in Leepa Valley too. “People who were supporting them, also the Pakistani posts, bore the brunt of our retaliatory action,” he said. The General claimed there was a kind of “radio silence” on the other side and “we are not even able to pick up any mobile communication… which implies that there have been casualties, damage, which the Pakistan Army does not want to highlight… as the world will know that no action had been taken (by them) to curtail acts of terrorism… But, definitely, as and when we get it, we will provide you with more evidence.”
Defence Minister Rajnath Singh was briefed about the retaliatory action, the Army Chief said. Adding that they are “regularly” in touch on the issue, he said, “The political leadership and the military are working in close coordination… The political leadership is fully backing us on countering terror and no restriction has been put.”
Warning that if Pakistan persisted with such activities, the Army would not hesitate to retaliate, General Rawat said the neighbouring country was trying to stir trouble after the abrogation of Article 370. “Gradually, things are returning to normal in the Valley, but obviously somebody is working behind the scenes, at the behest of terrorists and agencies, some within and some outside Pakistan and PoK, to disrupt the peaceful atmosphere… Three days ago, we foiled an infiltration bid in the Machil Sector and recovered a rucksack and other equipment.”
A senior police officer in Tangdhar told The Indian Express that several houses were damaged in the Pakistani firing. Officials said the area had seen such heavy shelling after a long time.
Kupwara Deputy Commissioner Kupwara Anshul Garg told The Indian Express that eight other people also received injuries, including some Armymen, and over a dozen livestock were killed. A civilian told The Indian Express over the phone from Tangdhar, “There is complete panic among people here.”
Pakistan claimed that the Indian firing had resulted in death of five of its civilians. In a tweet, Major General Ghafoor said, “Indian Army raising white flag. This they should think before initiating unprovoked CFVs (ceasefire violations) and respect military norms by avoiding (targeting) innocent civilians.”
In a statement, the Pakistan Foreign Ministry said that Pakistan’s Director General (SA & SAARC) Dr Mohammad Faisal summoned the Indian Acting High Commissioner and condemned India’s “unprovoked ceasefire violations”. Pakistan, it said, categorically rejects Indian reports about “so-called launchpads”. “Pakistan has called upon the P5 (the UN Security Council’s five permanent members) to ask India to provide information about the so-called alleged ‘launchpads’ and stated its willingness to arrange a visit of the P5 diplomats to those locations to expose Indian falsehood.”
In another statement, the Pakistan Foreign Ministry criticised the “anti-Pakistan tirade” of the BJP during campaigning for the Haryana and Maharashtra Assembly elections. “In successive election rallies in recent days, Pakistan has been invoked repeatedly,” the ministry said, accusing the BJP of “regurgitating” baseless allegations of Pakistan’s support to terrorism and drug smuggling, and questioning its threats to disrupt flow of river water to Pakistan as well as its claims taking credit over the opening of the Kartarpur Corridor. “… the instrumental use of Pakistan for domestic, political gains and electoral dividends must come to an end in India,” said the statement.
Since the abrogation of Article 370, tensions have been running high along the LoC, with the two armies repeatedly exchanging fire. Recently, in two separate incidents, a civilian and a soldier were killed in cease-fire violation by Pakistan in the Uri Sector in nearby Baramulla district.
Kashmir has seen four gunfights between militants and security forces since the August 5 move, with the communication blackout hampering anti-militancy operations in the Valley. (with PTI inputs and ENS, Jammu)