In a joint press conference by director general of military operations Lt General Ranbir Singh and ministry of external affairs spokesperson Vikas Swarup, the former has announced that the India forces carried out “surgical strikes” last night at terror “launch pads” across the Line of Control (LoC). The Indian surgical strikes have caused, according to DGMO statement, “significant casualties” to “terrorists and those who are trying to support them.”
The DGMO also said that he has informed his counterpart in Pakistan about the operation. While Pakistan’s Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif has condemned India’s “unprovoked and naked” aggression, the Pakistan Army denies any Indian strike. It admits only of ceasefire violations—certainly more routine than surgical strikes—which have resulted in the death of two Pakistani soldiers.
The latest reports trickling in say that seven launch pads were attacked by the Indian forces, the farthest of which was three kilometres across the LoC. While more details about the nature of operations and number of casualties are awaited, the following points can be made:
1. There have been reports of Indian strikes across the LoC in the past but this is the first time such an operation has been made public at the official level. This indicates that there was certainly a political pressure of responding to Uri attacks. An operation without public announcement might have boosted the morale of the army but would have neither satisfied public sentiment nor would have redeemed the strongman image of the Prime Minister Narendra Modi.
2. The nature of Pakistan army response carries huge implications. Clearly this is an attempt by Rawalpindi to manage public opinion. Admittance of Indian strikes will increase the pressure on Pakistan army for a proportionate, if not more, military response. The denial means either Pakistan will not respond or it will respond through deniable operations involving regular forces or terrorists.
3. The Pakistan army says two of its soldiers were killed in LoC firings. The Indian DGMO statement mentions significant casualties to terrorists and those trying to support them. Are the two Pakistani soldiers among those supporting the terrorists?
4. The nature of Pakistan’s response will have implications on nuclear deterrence equations between the two countries. If Pakistan does not escalate the crisis even after Indian army publicising its surgical strike, it will mean there is space for India to undertake military response to terror attacks.
5. The Indian strikes should not be seen in isolation. New Delhi has already pulled out of the upcoming Saarc summit which was to be held in Islamabad. With Bangladesh, Bhutan and Afghanistan also supporting India and pulling out of Saarc, India has made credible progress on diplomatically isolating Pakistan. While India has not unilaterally reneged on the Indus Waters Treaty of 1960 but it has decided to maximise the exploitation of water it can legally under the treaty. This will also inflict some pain across the border since Pakistan is a particularly water-scarce country.
6. There were reports of John Kerry, the US secretary of state, speaking to Sushma Swaraj, the Indian minister of external affairs, advising her not to escalate the crisis with Pakistan. Now the phones from Washington will be ringing in Islamabad and Rawalpindi.