Through the operation, conducted before dawn Thursday, India has established its right to retaliate.
That this government was willing to go the extra mile was evident in June last year when the country’s special forces crossed the international border into Myanmar to target a splinter Naga terrorist outfit.
There were doubts whether India would do the same where Pakistan was concerned.
The strikes prove that it will, signalling an end to business-as-usual. This marks a major turning point in India’s dealings with Pakistan on the vexing issue of terrorism.
The action is certain to burnish Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s image domestically, given that he was under pressure to counter the 18 September terrorist attack on the Indian army garrison in Uri which caused the death of 18 soldiers.
In the aftermath of the attack, India had warned that its response would not be customary and that it reserved the right to respond at a time and place of its choosing.
“This (the strike) is a game changer," said former foreign secretary Kanwal Sibal. “It is aimed at making Pakistan recalculate its strategy. Pakistan has thought that it is at liberty to do things against India whenever and wherever it wants and has been confident India will not hit back," he said.
On the diplomatic front, India ring-fenced its army action by keeping key countries such as the US in the loop—Indian national security adviser Ajit Doval spoke to his US counterpart Susan Rice early on Thursday. The envoys of the US, the UK, France, Russia and China were among 25 ambassadors foreign secretary S. Jaishankar briefed on Thursday.
“Based on very specific and credible information which we received yesterday (Wednesday) that some terrorist teams had positioned themselves at launchpads with an aim to carry out infiltration and terrorist strikes... the Indian Army conducted surgical strikes," lieutenant general Ranbir Singh, director general of military operations (DGMO), said at a joint briefing of the ministries of defence and external affairs in New Delhi.
“During these counter-terrorist operations, significant casualties have been caused to the terrorists and those who are trying to support them. The operations... have since ceased. We do not have plans for further continuation of the operations," Singh told reporters.
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India has frequently accused Pakistan of maintaining terrorist training infrastructure, i.e., camps in Pakistan-administered Kashmir.
Given that the operation was against terrorist launchpads, India is viewing it as a counter-terrorism operation, Sibal said adding “it shows Pakistan that there is a price to pay".
India’s action serves as a warning to Pakistan, said retired major general Gagandeep Bakshi. “It is a focused, and precise response to the (Uri) attack. This is a message to the world that India cannot be taken for granted. Pakistan has been destabilizing peace in the region and this was long over-due," he said.
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On how Pakistan could react, he said: “They can either use their special forces for tit-for-tat operations or they can activate the LoC."
In his briefing, DGMO Singh said he had contacted the Pakistani director general of military operations with the details of the Indian strikes.
There was confusion in Pakistan’s official response. While the country’s army denied any surgical strike, the political leadership vowed a strong response.
“The notion of surgical strike linked to alleged terrorists bases is an illusion being deliberately generated by India to create false effects," Pakistan’s army said in a statement.
Pakistan Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif’s response, however, was sharper. “We condemn this attack, our desire for peace should not be interpreted as our weakness," Sharif was quoted as saying by ANI news agency.
The army action, predictably, was hailed at home.
“We salute the Indian armed forces and the leadership of Prime Minister Narendra Modi for protecting our borders and the life of people. It is a great effort by the Indian forces," said Siddharth Nath Singh, national secretary of Modi’s Bharatiya Janata Party.
The main opposition Congress, too, gave a thumbs-up to the army action.
“Details of this are yet to come out for us to give a specific response. But our broad stand is that we welcome any action against terrorism which would deter Pakistan to send terrorists across the border. We will wait for more details to give a more comprehensive response," said P. L. Punia, senior leader and spokesperson of the Congress.
Also Read: Full text of DGMO Lt Gen Ranbir Singh’s press conference
Gyan Varma, Anuja and Meenal Thakur contributed to this story.