India says its commandos have struck terrorist launch pads in Pakistan in retaliation for a terror attack on one of its army camps, fuelling concerns of full-scale hostilities breaking out between the nuclear- armed neighbours.
Pakistan's military confirmed the death of two soldiers in what it called "naked aggression" but insisted these were not targeted strikes by India across the de facto border running through the disputed Himalayan territory of Kashmir.
But the Indian Army claimed that it had inflicted "significant casualties" on terrorists and "those who are trying to support them" in strikes that took place in five to six locations across the de facto border.
The action was "based on very credible and specific information... that some terrorist teams had positioned themselves at launch pads along the Line of Control with an aim to carry out infiltration and terrorist strikes in Jammu and Kashmir and in various other metros in our country", said the Indian Army's director-general of military operations, Lieutenant-General Ranbir Singh, at a briefing yesterday. He said the strike was a response to Pakistan's lack of action on cross-border terrorism.
But Pakistan's military said "the notion of a surgical strike linked to alleged terrorists bases is an illusion being deliberately generated" by India and that it would have responded "strongly" if there had been one.
The mounting tensions follow a Sept 18 attack on an Indian Army base in Kashmir that New Delhi blamed on Islamabad in which 19 soldiers were killed. The two countries have gone to war three times over Kashmir and, in spite of a 2003 ceasefire agreement, regularly exchange fire along the de facto border India calls the Line of Control.
Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi came to power promising tough action on cross-border terrorism. Thus, India has called off its participation in the South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation summit in Pakistan scheduled to be held in November, and is reviewing the Indus Water Treaty that governs water sharing between the two countries and Pakistan's Most Favoured Nation status.
India's most junior diplomat in the United Nations also accused Pakistan of hosting an "ivy league of terrorism", a notion that Pakistan flatly denied.
India said military operations had ceased for now. But Indian media reported that villages near the border in Jammu and Kashmir and in Punjab had been evacuated in anticipation of a Pakistani response.
Analysts said the next 48 hours would be critical.
"There would be a response but it will be low-key artillery firing across the Line of Control," said retired brigadier Gurmeet Kanwal of the Institute for Defence Studies and Analyses. "It is not in Pakistan's interest nor are they in a position to escalate this kind of thing."
US National Security Adviser Susan Rice yesterday also discussed terrorism with Indian National Security Adviser Ajit Doval.
"Ambassador Rice reiterated our expectation that Pakistan take effective action to combat and delegitimise United Nations-designated terrorist individuals and entities... and their affiliates," said a statement from a White House spokesman.