New Delhi: India said on Thursday it carried out surgical strikes on terrorist launch pads across the LoC in Pakistan and inflicted heavy casualties. Islamabad insisted there had been only cross-border clashes that left two of its soldiers dead.
Eleven days after terrorists killed 18 Indian soldiers in Jammu and Kashmir, Indian Special Forces targeted "some terrorist teams" positioned on the Line of Control (LoC) on Wednesday night, the military said.
"During these counter-terrorist operations, significant casualties have been caused to the terrorists and those who support them," Lt Gen Ranbir Singh, the Director General Military Operations (DGMO), told the media.
As Indian authorities ordered a high alert along the border areas of Punjab and Gujarat and said it was ready for any retaliation by Islamabad, Pakistan Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif sounded a warning to New Delhi.
Villagers in a 10-km border belt in Punjab in India were ordered to move to safer places, while schools were shut in the entire area. Leave of police as well as medical personnel there was cancelled.
Across the border in Neelum Valley in Pakistan, authorities banned the movement of vehicles near the LoC, ordered primary schools shut and warned people not to loiter in the vicinity, according to Geo News.
Minutes after India announced the surgical strikes on Thursday, Sharif denounced what he said was "unprovoked and naked aggression" by Indian forces.
"Our intent for peaceful neighbourhood should not be mistaken as our weakness," he said. Pakistan can "thwart any evil design made to undermine the sovereignty of Pakistan", he added.
The Pakistani military said there were no surgical strikes by India, and "instead there had been cross-border fire initiated and conducted by India which is existential phenomenon.
"The same was strongly and befittingly responded by Pakistani troops," it said. "The notion of surgical strikes linked to alleged terrorist bases is an illusion being deliberately generated by India."
Terrorists fighting Indian rule in Jammu and Kashmir are known to be based in the Pakistani part of divided Kashmir and are said to enjoy the backing of both the Pakistani military and terrorist groups aligned with Pakistani intelligence.
As temperatures mounted in the region, with the Saarc summit scheduled in Islamabad in November under a shadow following a boycott by India, Bhutan, Afghanistan and Bangladesh, the government convened an all-party meeting in New Delhi and shared details of the overnight surgical strikes.
The Indian forces did not release details but some reports said that Indian Special Forces had gone three kilometers across the LoC and eliminated 38 terrorists before retreating.
Gen Ranbir Singh said the terrorists in the surgical strikes had planned "to carry out infiltration and terrorist strikes in Jammu and Kashmir and various other metros in our country.
"The operation was basically focussed 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 said.
The DGMO said the operation had since ceased. "We do not have plans of further continuation of the operations. However, the Indian armed forces are fully prepared for any contingency that may arise."
The Indian action was based on "very specific and credible information", he added.
Thursday also saw Pakistani military shelling Indian positions across the LoC -- which divides Jammu and Kashmir between the two countries -- at Danesh and Lakshmi posts in Naugam sector, the state Police said. The Indian military retaliated.
Pakistan said the exchange of fire began at 2.30 a.m. and continued till 8.00 a.m., leaving two Pakistani soldiers dead.
"Pakistani troops befittingly responded to Indian unprovoked firing on the LoC in Bhimber, Hotspring Kel and Lipa sectors," it said.
The Indian DGMO said he also spoke to his Pakistani counterpart and told him about the operation.
"It is India's intention to maintain peace and tranquility in the region but we cannot -- certainly not -- allow the terrorists to operate across the LoC with impunity and attack the citizens of the country.
"We expect the Pakistan Army to cooperate with us to erase the menace of terrorism from our region," he added.