Covert becomes overt: Congress spells out three strikes UPA carried out

The Congress on claimed the UPA II, like the NDA government, had also conducted “surgical strikes” — but without making them public. The party listed three dates — September 1, 2011; July 28, 2013; and, January 14, 2014 — when the strikes took place. The Manmohan Singh government, known for its publicly stated policy of “strategic restraint”, was in power at the time.

While the strikes were not made public, a look at events around those dates offers some clues into what could have transpired.

Five Indian and three Pakistani soldiers were killed in a shooting between August 30 and September 1, 2011, across the Line of Control in Kupwara district/Neelum Valley. Both countries accused the other of initiating hostilities.

Pakistani media reports claimed fighting started when Indian security forces opened fire on a Pakistani checkpoint on the LoC in Neelum Valley in Pakistan-occupied Kashmir.

Spokesman of the Inter Services Public Relations, Major General Athar Abbas, confirmed the incident while talking to BBC Urdu. He said the attack was unprovoked. He also claimed that three soldiers were going from one post to another when they got lost due to bad weather and, after a 24-hour search, their bodies were recovered.

But Lieutenant Colonel J S Brar, spokesman of the Indian Army, claimed that Pakistan had made an infiltration bid in Keran sector of J&K’s Kupwara district on August 30, which was foiled by Indian security forces.

Brar claimed that on the night of August 31, an Indian border post was fired at by Pakistani troops. Both sides
exchanged fire for hours, leading to the casualties.

Prior to that incident, ties between the two countries had been on amend. About six months earlier, the then PM Manmohan Singh had invited Pakistan PM Yousaf Raza Gilani to watch the Cricket World Cup final in Mohali, being played between India and Pakistan on March 30. A day before the meeting of the PMs, home secretaries from both countries were scheduled to meet to discuss the progress on the 26/11 terror probe.

Focus was also on economic ties. In April 2011, the commerce secretaries met in Islamabad. The thrust was on Pakistan granting the Most Favoured Nation (MFN) status to India, and India removing the non-tariff barriers to Pakistani products.

In May 2011, India released a list of 50 ‘Most Wanted Fugitives’ hiding in Pakistan, including Dawood Ibrahim and Hafiz Saeed, meant to pressure Pakistan after the killing of Osama bin Laden in his compound in Abbottabad. But after two errors were discovered on the list, the CBI removed it from their website pending a review and the Pakistani interior ministry rejected it altogether.

July 28, 2013

On July 27, a Pakistan Army soldier was reportedly killed and another seriously injured in “unprovoked” firing by
Indian troops from across the LoC, Pakistan’s Dawn newspaper reported. According to Pakistan Army’s ISPR wing, the incident took place on Rawlakot’s Nezapir sector near the LoC.

The Pakistani foreign office strongly condemned the shooting, saying it was “unfortunate that such an incident should have taken place at a time when the two governments are making sincere efforts towards improving relations”. But the Indian Army blamed Pakistani troops for violating ceasefire.

Later, on the night of July 30, 2013, there were reports that four Pakistani men were killed near Katwar post in India. India said the men were “intruders” and “militants”, but Pakistan disputed that claim and said the men were “local civilians” plucking herbs and had strayed close to the LoC when they were abducted by Indian soldiers.

The year 2013 had started on a tense note. On January 8, 2013, Pakistan Army’s Border Action Team, wearing black combat uniforms, crossed the LoC and ambushed an Indian Army patrol team, killing two soldiers of the 13 Rajputana Rifles and injuring two others. The skirmish reportedly lasted about 30 minutes, after which the intruders retreated from Indian territory. Two soldiers were killed and their bodies were reportedly found mutilated, with one decapitated.

All through 2013, diplomatic talks between the two countries could not move forward because of the tense atmosphere.

January 14, 2014

On January 13, 2014, the then Army Chief General Bikram Singh said that a strong reply had been given to last
year’s cross-border raids by Pakistan, referring to reports that 10 Pakistani soldiers had been killed in Indian action across the LoC.

Asked what retaliatory action had been taken, the Army Chief said that soldiers “have reacted well as required” and that there is an endeavour “not to escalate the situation into operational or strategic arena”.

“It depends, if rules are followed by our neighbours, we follow the rules. If rules are broken, then obviously we cannot stick to the rules. Even we are going to break the rules,” Singh had said.

Two days after January 14, 2014, Pakistan’s commerce minister Khurram Dastgir Khan visited India and met the then commerce minister Anand Sharma, and the two sides agreed to expedite the implementation of the liberal trade regime.

About three weeks earlier, the Directors General of Military Operation had met in Wagah after 14 years — their first meeting since the 1999 Kargil war. Coming at the end of a year that saw an unprecedented number of cross-border violations since the 2003 ceasefire agreement came into place, the meeting was seen as an effort to normalise the relationship.

During the meeting, the Indian side had strongly raised the issue of at least two cross-border raids that resulted in the death of seven Indian soldiers and also conveyed that it does not expect a repeat of 2013 that saw over 195 ceasefire violations on the LoC. DGMO Lt Gen Vinod Bhatia and Pakistan’s Maj Gen Aamer Riaz also decided to hold two flag meetings between the Brigade Commanders on the LoC.

The meeting of the two DGMOs was aimed at reducing tension on the border and had been agreed upon in September 2013 — when the then PM Manmohan Singh met his counterpart Nawaz Sharif at the UN in New York.

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