As India celebrates the third anniversary of India’s so-called surgical strikes, there is a lurking feeling that India has still not officially provided any details of those strikes.
The only account of those details came from Indian journalist Praveen Swami in a report published a few days after the alleged strikes. What he euphemistically termed “graphic details”, however, appeared to be an effort to appease the Indian political and military establishment.
Swami claimed that he gathered his information from five people living on the Pakistani side whom he contacted through their relatives on the Indian side. He wrote that the eyewitness accounts corroborated Indian intelligence records obtained by Indian Express.
According to Swami’s own admission, his most detailed account comes from two witnesses of Dudhnial village in Neelum Valley. Swami’s witnesses saw “a gutted house” in the village from the main market on the other side of the Neelum river. The house, he wrote, was a camp of Lashkar-e-Taiba.
A few days later, I was in the area and looked around from the market area across the river to see if I could spot the ‘gutted’ compound. No luck. I was in Dudhnial to look up some land.I crossed the river and walked all over the village with some locals I had been dealing with regarding the land. We talked about everything under the sun, including the Sep 29 “strikes”. Neither could I find the remains of a destroyed compound, nor anyone in the area could recall any such thing has happened. And there were no traces of militants in the area. What actually happened in Dudnayal is not what Swami wrote.
What I came to know was that Pakistani soldiers present at an outpost in the Dudnayal sector witnessed unusual movement in the Indian army’s outpost located a few hundred meters away.
They saw the presence of about one platoon of the 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 they 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 even get a chance to respond to Pakistani firing. They sought artillery cover. The guns boomed from both sides for some time and then fell silent. There were no casualties on the 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.
Except for this one incident, nobody saw any unusual movement across the LoC in the Neelum valley region, though villagers did report occasional flashing of floodlights by the Indians from some of their posts on the hills.
The most audacious claim by Swami is about fighting taking place along Katha Nar stream above Athmuqam town. I was in Athmuqam that morning. In fact, I had been in Athmuqam for several weeks.
From where I was putting up, one could see Indian and Pakistani positions on the opposite hills. I saw the occasional flashing of floodlights by the Indians from their posts.
On the night of the so-called strike, I was sitting outside in the courtyard until 5 in the morning, tweeting.
After that, I went into sleep.
When I woke up on Thursday morning (the day New Delhi claimed 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 hyper-nationalist 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 shelling in the Dudnayal sector only but there were no casualties on the Pakistani side. I went out to see the mood in the Authmuqam town of Neelum Valley. There was no panic, and life was going on as normal.
Like the residents of Athmuqam, and the surrounding villages of Bugna and others, I did not hear the sound of gunfire. In fact, we hadn’t heard firing in the area for months. And nobody ever saw any dead bodies brought to the district hospital in Authmuqam, as Swami claimed.
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.
Swami also claimed that “five, perhaps six bodies” of militants killed in the compound in Dudhnayal were put in a truck and transported for “secret burial” at Chalhana, where he says a Lashkar camp is located. There is remote chances of a camp in Chaliana as there is a crossing point where members of the divided families travelled across the line of control before It was closed a few years ago. There is also a forest checkpoint, police check post as well as army check post. This is not possible at all.
Within a few weeks, I also visited Leepa Valley.
In Leepa Valley, the wise Swami’s sources tell him that a Lashkar camp was hit near a village called Khairati Bagh. I wonder why his sources did not tell him that the only action in Leepa valley on September 29 took place at Munda Kuli, and not at Khairati Bagh which is quite far from the LoC and where no one has seen or heard of either any compound destroyed or any fire having landed. If “three to four” militants had been killed there, as Swami claims, the local people would have known. What happened in Munda Kuli was not a surgical strike rather, cross-border firing and shelling between the two armies.
Irrespective of the fact whether the Indian military is capable of launching surgical strikes, I was convinced the Indian claim was a bluff to appease public opinion in India. Even if the Indian army had the capability to carry out surgical strikes, it would never try one because the topography of the region does not allow them to carry out such strike. The entire area is mountainous and the Indian army can’t land its helicopters on mountains, carry out strikes and then return safely.
Secondly, even Indian helicopters fly, they would be detected within no time as the aerial distance from the Un-monitored ceasefire line to populated areas is even less than a few meters in many cases and they could be easily shot down. They can’t fly low to avoid detection because there are giant mountains and forests in the area.
Swami’s write up was based on myth and nothing. The Indian military, Indian journalists and the Indian government are basically misleading their own nation and celebrate the falsehood.
No army except Indian military can celebrate fake bravado. This false claim of the Indian military has farther damaged the image of Indian military.
Zulfiqar Ali is an author, journalist and blogger. Documented a report on Indian sniper victims titled ‘Kashmir: India’s Sniper War Along the UN-Monitored Ceasefire Line’. Also produced documentary films on Indian pellet victims in occupied Kashmir and Indian sniper victims along the ceasefire line. He has been mainly associated with the BBC for nearly 15 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.