KASHMIR

Pakistan fury after India conducts 'surgical strikes' on militants preparing cross-border terror mission

The strikes, which Pakistan says killed two of its troops, raise the possibility of a military escalation between nuclear-armed neighbours that would wreck a 2003 Kashmir ceasefire

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 29 September, 2016, 6:28pm
UPDATED : Thursday, 29 September, 2016, 11:10pm

India said Thursday it had conducted military strikes along its de facto border with Pakistan in Kashmir to thwart attacks on some of its biggest cities, provoking a furious reaction from its nuclear-armed neighbour.

With a growing backlash in India over a deadly assault on one of its army bases in Kashmir earlier this month, a senior officer said the military had carried out “surgical strikes” along the unofficial border that divides the disputed territory on Wednesday night.

Pakistan’s military said two of its soldiers had been killed in what it called “cross-border fire” while its Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif condemned what he called India’s “naked aggression”.

News of the strikes was announced at a press conference by Lieutenant General Ranbir Singh, India’s director-general of military operations.

“Some terrorist teams had positioned themselves at launchpads along the Line of Control,” Singh said, describing the intelligence information as “very specific and credible”.

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“The Indian army conducted surgical strikes last night at these launchpads. Significant casualties have been caused to these terrorists and those who are trying to support them.

“The operations aimed at neutralising the terrorists have since ceased.”

Singh said the decision to launch the strikes had been taken after the military determined the launchpads had been set up with “an aim to carry out infiltration and terrorist strikes in Jammu and Kashmir and various other metros in our country.”

“The operations were basically focused to ensure that these terrorists do not succeed in their design of infiltration and carrying out destruction and endangering the lives of citizens of our country.”

He did not say whether the strikes had been carried out by the Indian air force or by ground troops.

But the Pakistani military rejected the idea that the strikes had been “surgical”.

In a statement Thursday, it said its soldiers “befittingly responded to Indian unprovoked firing” — implying they returned fire— along the Kashmir border, near the villages of Bhimber, Kel and Lipa.

“The notion of surgical strike linked to alleged terrorists’ bases is an illusion being deliberately generated by Indian to create false effects.

“This quest by Indian establishment to create media hype by rebranding cross border fire as surgical strike is fabrication of truth.”

In a statement from his office, Sharif “strongly condemned the unprovoked and naked aggression of Indian forces”.

The strikes come after the Indian government accused Pakistan-based militants of launching a deadly assault on an army base in Kashmir earlier this month that killed 18 soldiers.

India has also been on a diplomatic drive to isolate its arch rival and fellow nuclear power since the raid on September 18, the worst such attack in more than a decade.

On Tuesday it said Prime Minister Narendra Modi would not attend the South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (SAARC) summit in Islamabad in November, in a major snub to its neighbour.

Kashmir has been divided between India and Pakistan since gaining independence from Britain seven decades ago.

China, one of the permanent members of the UN Security Council and a traditional ally of Pakistan, has urged dialogue between the two antagonists.

The Indian-controlled part of the picturesque territory has a Muslim majority and there are a number of armed separatist groups who are fighting to break free from New Delhi.

India has said the attack on the Uri army base in the northern part of Kashmir was carried out by a Pakistan-based group called Jaish-e Mohammed.

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Tensions had already been high in the region since the Indian army killed a leading Kashmiri separatist in a gunfight in early July, sparking a series of protests that have been staged in defiance of curfew orders.

More than 80 people have been killed in the Indian-controlled part of Kashmir since July, many of them shot by the army at the protests.

Additional reporting by Associated Press and Reuters