NEW DELHI : India on Sunday launched a major strike against terrorist training camps in Pakistan-occupied Kashmir, killing 6-10 terrorists and an equal number of Pakistani troops besides decimating at least three launch pads. This was the third instance of New Delhi directly targeting terrorist infrastructure in Pakistan-controlled territory since 2016.

India’s retaliation comes days after the Paris-based Financial Action Task Force (FATF) gave a stark warning to Pakistan that it has time only till February 2020 to stem the flow of finances to terrorist groups and tighten banking channels or be placed in a blacklist alongside Iran and North Korea.

India’s action also follows comments by defence minister Rajnath Singh warning that India would take steps to wind up terrorist training infrastructure in Pakistan if Islamabad was unable to do so.

In February, New Delhi used air power to take out a terrorist training camp in Balakot in Pakistan’s Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province. This came after a suicide bomber blew up a bus carrying paramilitary personnel, killing 40. In 2016, the Indian Army had sent in special forces to destroy launch pads across the de facto Line of Control in Kashmir.

“Pakistan has been making threats urging Kashmiris to rise up against India," said former foreign secretary Kanwal Sibal, referring to Prime Minister Imran Khan’s remarks after India scrapped a provision in its Constitution giving special status to Jammu and Kashmir and integrating the region more closely with India. “The message to Pakistan is that India will firmly deal with any terrorist threat from Pakistan," Sibal said, adding: “It is New Delhi saying clearly that we will retaliate if there is any move to stoke trouble."

India’s tough message on Sunday came after Pakistan opened fire on Indian positions in Kashmir’s Tangdhar area, killing two soldiers and one civilian, and injuring three other civilians. Army chief Bipin Rawat told reporters that “six to 10 Pakistani troops and an equal number of terrorists were killed" in the Indian action. Rawat also said the Indian Army had prior information on the terrorist launch pads. “Of late, we had information that terrorists are coming closer to camps in the forward areas. In the last one month, we have seen repeated attempts from different sectors to infiltrate terrorists. It was decided that we target that terror camps across. We had the coordinates of these camps. We have caused severe damage to terrorists’ infrastructure," he said.

Two Indian Army personnel, Hav Padam Bahadur Shrestha and Rin Gamil Kumar Shrestha, who lost their lives in Pakistani firing, in Tangdhar sector along the Line of Control (LoC) in Jammu and Kashmir (Photo: PTI)
Two Indian Army personnel, Hav Padam Bahadur Shrestha and Rin Gamil Kumar Shrestha, who lost their lives in Pakistani firing, in Tangdhar sector along the Line of Control (LoC) in Jammu and Kashmir (Photo: PTI)

An Indian Army spokesman said the Pakistani army opened fire “to assist infiltration by terrorists into Indian territories. “As a result, there was a calibrated escalation of weapons undertaken by the Indian side in which terrorist launch pads and 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 across Indian borders," he added.

New Delhi said that Pakistan’s firing at Indian positions to push in terrorists is aimed at fuelling an insurgency in Kashmir and carrying out attacks in other parts of the country. This is a charge Pakistan denies. A second reason for Pakistan to violate the 2003 ceasefire agreement with India is to refocus international attention on the decades-old Kashmir dispute given that it does not receive as much traction as it once did, Indian officials said.

The Pakistani push on infiltration comes as India tries to normalize the situation in Kashmir after Parliament abrogated Article 370 of the Indian constitution conferring special status on the region. This has infuriated Pakistan as it changes the contours of any future talks between New Delhi and Islamabad.

Pakistan has been trying to spotlight some measures taken by India to ensure there is no violence in Kashmir— detaining some prominent political leaders, cutting off communications and enforcing curfew. Many of these restrictions have now been removed with reports of terrorists targeting truck drivers and labourers from other states of India coming in.

The spike in tensions comes as India and Pakistan are preparing to sign a pact that will allow Indian pilgrims to visit Pakistan to pay respects at the Kartarpur Sahib gurudwara where the founder of the Sikh faith Guru Nanak lived the last years of his life.

A woman mourns the death of her relative, who, according to the family, was killed in shelling, during a funeral in Nousehri village (Photo: Reuters)
A woman mourns the death of her relative, who, according to the family, was killed in shelling, during a funeral in Nousehri village (Photo: Reuters)

According to two people familiar with the development, the targets destroyed by the Indian army were in the Neelam valley of Pakistan administered Kashmir “As per our information four-five Pakistani soldiers have been killed and several have been injured," one of those cited above said. “Pakistan targeted our civilian area killing one and injuring three civilians. Our troops retaliated strongly causing heavy damage and casualties to the enemy. Two of our soldiers have also been killed," the person said.

An ANI report said the Indian army struck Jura, Athmuqam and Kundalsahi after credible inputs came of significant number of terrorists operating there.

The Pakistan army spokesman, in a Twitter post, said India had initiated “unprovoked CFVs (ceasefire violations) in Jura, Shahkot & Nousehri sectors deliberately targeting civilians. Effectively responded. 9 Indian soldiers killed several injured. 2 Indian bunkers destroyed. During exchange of fire 1 soldier & 3 civilians shaheed (killed), 2 soldiers & 5 civilians injured."

“Targeting innocent civilians by Indian Army is an attempt to justify their false claims of targeting alleged camps. Injured civilians evacuated to district hospitals. UNMOGIP as well as domestic & foreign media have open access to AJK (Azad Jammu and Kashmir/Pakistan administered Kashmir), a liberty not available in IOJ&K (Indian Occupied Jammu and Kashmir)," the spokesman said in a second Twitter post.

The last was a reference to the restrictions in place after the scrapping of Article 370 by India.

Later on Sunday, the Pakistan foreign office summoned Indian deputy high commissioner Gaurav Ahluwalia to protest the deaths.

This is the third time in recent years that India has hit terrorist training camps and launch pads inside Pakistan controlled territory. The first time India launched cross border operations to eliminate terrorist training camps in Pakistan was in 2016 in the aftermath of an attack on an army garrison in Uri in which 19 Indian soldiers had been killed. Indian special forces crossed the de facto line of control border in Kashmir and destroyed terrorist launch pads there. In February this year, the Indian airforce struck a terrorist training facility in Balakot in Pakistan’s Khyber Pakthunkwa province. This came after a suicide bomber blew up a bus carrying indian paramilitary personnel killing 40.

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