Escalation not in anyone’s interest
The Pakistan Army said on Saturday that escalation and provocation was not in anyone’s interest as it launched a media blitzkrieg to challenge Indian claim of having conducted surgical strikes in Azad Kashmir to neutralise alleged “terrorism launch pads”.
“Escalation and war mongering do not suit anyone. We neither escalated nor want to increase tensions; all the war rhetoric has been from the Indian side,” Director General of the Inter-Services Public Relations Lt Gen Asim Bajwa told journalists at a forward command post on the Line of Control (LoC).
A group of 40 journalists, both local and foreign representing about 20 media organisations, were taken to two of the seven places Indians claim to have targeted with surgical strikes: Bagsar in Bhimbher sector and Mandol in Hot Spring sector. They were also the places where Pakistan had lost two of its soldiers early on Thursday morning due to Indian shelling.
Apart from receiving briefings by regional commanders and the military spokesman, the journalists also interacted with the locals, who denied having any knowledge of surgical strikes or any other suspicious activity on the night between Wednesday and Thursday.
Gen Bajwa told reporters that no “signature of any surgical strike” could be found which meant that there was no reality in the Indian claims.
He challenged India to be transparent and open about its claim. Pakistan Army, he recalled, was cooperating with a United Nations probe into ceasefire violations that occurred on Sept 28-29 along the 250km LoC, and had brought media there for investigating the Indian claims. “Why are they not allowing their own people to scrutinise the claims?” he wondered.
Locals reject Indian claim of ‘surgical strikes’ during journalists’ visit to the area
India had earlier restricted journalists from publishing stories on military issues without approval of relevant corps headquarters after the Indian media exposed as untrue Director General Military Operations (DGMO) Lt Gen Ranbir Singh’s claim of finding Pakistani markings on weapons recovered from Uri military camp attackers.
Gen Bajwa posed several questions to Indian military about its “surgical strikes” claim and advised the Indian DGMO to be “sure-footed” while making statements on sensitive matters.
Some of the questions he asked were: Where are bodies of people killed in the claimed surgical strikes? Where did the Indians cause damage? How come the troops came and went back unchallenged all in a span of five hours in this difficult terrain?
India had claimed that “surgical strikes” by its troops had caused “significant damage to terrorists and those who were trying to support them”.
The military spokesman insisted that there was no “physical violation” of the LoC and there was only an exchange of fire on that day.
Pakistan, he said, did not allow infiltration across the LoC and export of terrorism as a matter of policy. He regretted that Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi was misleading his people by misinterpreting the ceasefire violation as a surgical strike to cover up problems in held Kashmir.
Gen Bajwa worried that escalation on its eastern border with India could affect Pakistan’s commitment to the fight against terror, in which 208,000 troops were engaged and operations were in concluding phase. Losing focus on the counterterrorism operations, he cautioned, would not serve the cause of peace and security in the region.
Touching upon the controversy about the missing Indian soldier Chandu Babulal Chohan, believed to be in Pakistani custody, the spokesman said India had asked for a DGMOs-level contact on the issue.
India says Chohan had inadvertently crossed the LoC and was detained by Pakistan Army.
Pakistani military’s position has over the past few days evolved from outright denial about his arrest to searching for his whereabouts. And now Gen Bajwa says the procedures for verification and authentication are being carried out — a process normally undertaken after an inadvertent crosser is found.
The military spokesman still stopped short of categorically accepting that Chohan was being held here.
Maj Gen Chiragh Haider, general officer commanding of Jhelum-based 23rd Division that is responsible for most of the LoC, said Indian claim of surgical strikes was incomprehensible and not expected from any reasonable and responsible military officer.
He said physical violation of the heavily militarised LoC was impossible as even the slightest movement was noticed there. “Therefore, it is unlikely that Indian soldiers came into Azad Kashmir and went back,” he contended.
Mirza Abdul Waheed, a local bodies’ councillor, told Dawn in Bagsar that nothing happened on that night except for an exchange of fire by both sides.
Rafi Shahzad, another Bagsar resident, said the Indian claim was a pack of lies. Mohammad Liaquat had similar view of events of the Sept 28/29 night.
In Mandol, some 2km from an Indian post on the LoC, Nauman Kabir, who works at a local bank, said he was surprised at the manner in which Indian leaders were trying to befool their people.
Shahid Mehmood, who works in Saudi Arabia and is at home for vacations, said the normal pace at which life was continuing here itself spoke about the Indian claim. “Indian threats cannot scare us,” he added.
Akseer Ahmad remembers intense artillery exchange that woke up everyone.