#SurgicalStrike: BBC Global Award winner Pakistan-Kashmir journalist writes from Neelum Valley

Except for this one incident, nobody seems to have seen any unusual movement across the LoC in the Neelum valley region, though villagers did report…

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I’ve been in Neelum valley during the past few weeks. From where I am putting up, one can see Indian and Pakistani positions on the opposite hills.

When I woke up on Thursday morning (the day New Delhi said armed forces carried out surgical strikes), I had no idea that India had claimed that it had carried out “surgical strikes” all across the LoC in Azad Jammu & Kashmir (AJK). I logged on to Facebook and discovered that war had broken out, at least inside the studios of Indian TV channels. There were celebrations of victory.

 

I picked up my phone and started calling the authorities to check if there had been any attack in Neelum valley. I was told that there had been a brief cross border firing in Dudnayal sector but there were no casualties on Pakistani side. I was curious to know as to what had exactly happened. In my quest to find the details I spoke to many people.

I came to know that Pakistani soldiers present at an outpost in Dudnayal sector witnessed some unusual movement at an  Indian army’s outpost located a few hundred meters away. They saw the presence of about one platoon of Indian army – some 32 soldiers – on the other side which is unusual for such outposts which are normally manned by three to four soldiers. They were equipped with rocket launchers and light machine-guns. Pakistani soldiers realised that something was wrong and opened fire on Indian soldiers. The Indians immediately fled back towards their post, screaming and abusing Pakistani soldiers.

Residents of Daynayal village, located just a few hundred meters away, were woken up by the sound of gunfire and came out to see what had happened. They also heard Indian soldiers screaming and hurling abuses. The Indian soldiers did not get a chance to respond to Pakistani firing. They straightaway sought artillery cover. The guns boomed on both the sides for some time and then fell silent. There were no casualties on Pakistani side and it is not clear if the Indians suffered any casualties. If there were any, they must have pulled them away taking advantage of darkness.

It appears though that the Indian military was well prepared to launch a surprise assault on Pakistan army’s outposts, but couldn’t– at least in the Neelum Valley.

Except for this one incident, nobody seems to have seen any unusual movement across the LoC in the Neelum valley region, though villagers did report occasional flashing of flood lights by the Indians from some of their posts on the hills. I went out to see the mood in the town. There was no panic, and life was going on as normal. However, some people were curious about India’s claim and wanted to know if there was any threat of ceasefire violations along the LoC. Everybody seemed to be certain that the Indian claim was baseless.

Many people have no idea about the spread of population along the LoC. In many cases, people live right over the border, and Indian and Pakistani positions are removed far away from these locations. In some cases, civilian settlements are behind the military positions. And when anything happens anywhere, the news travels fast.

I know the area and the people. I covered Neelum Valley as a journalist for a long time before and after the 2003 ceasefire agreement. When I asked people from different areas if they saw anything unusual along the LoC, their answer was invariably in the negative, except in the Dudnayal sector.Maoist attack in Chhattisgarh

Neelum valley runs parallel to the LoC. In many places, the LoC runs right along the Neelum . It was the worst affected region during the Kashmir uprising of 1990s. Hundreds of people were killed, wounded or maimed and public and private property worth tens of millions of rupee was destroyed.

I have been covering Kashmir for almost two decades and have covered militancy extensively which gives me a good understanding about Indian army. Even if Indian army had the capability to carry out surgical strikes, it would never try one because the topography of the region will not allow them to carry out such a strike. The entire area is mountainous and the Indian army wouldn’t be able to land its helicopters on such mountainous terrains, carry out strikes and then return safely.

If Indian helicopters were to fly in this region, they would be detected within no time as the aerial distance from the LoC to the populated areas is less than a few meters in many cases and they would get easily shot down. They also wouldn’t be able to fly low to avoid detection because there are tall mountains and forests in the area.

And most importantly, there are no militant camps along the LoC. If there were indeed camps there and if India was to attack, its soldiers would not return alive due to the kind of structure present at a militant camp. How is one to believe that Indian soldiers stayed in the area for about 4 hours and no one even saw them? Raiding those imaginary camps and having killed militants doesn’t seem to be based in rationale and logic.

(The author has been mainly associated with the BBC for nearly 20 years. Recipient of the BBC’s Global News Award 2012 for best reporting in the West and Central Asia. He has also worked as a stringer for Reuters, the AFP and has written on Kashmir politics for the Pakistani English language monthly magazine, Herald.)