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, according to IANS reports.
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."
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.
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 operation and aftermath
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. 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.
Punjab on high alert
Punjab was on maximum alert on Thursday while villagers close to the border with Pakistan have been told to move to safer locations following Indian "surgical strikes" across the LoC.
"Punjab is in a state of maximum alert," Harcharan Bains, the advisor to Chief Minister Parkash Singh Badal, said here.
He said appropriate steps were being taken to ensure the safety of people in the border areas with Pakistan.
Bains said the state cabinet would meet on Thursday evening, to be chaired by Badal, to take stock of the situation and take appropriate action.
The Punjab government has ordered the evacuation of villages in a 10-km belt along the border with Pakistan following the surgical strikes by the Indian Army across the Line of Control.
The union Home Ministry on Thursday directed the Punjab government to get the border villages evacuated.
Local authorities used loudspeakers of gurdwaras to announce to residents in the border villages to leave their homes and villages and move to safer zones.
All schools and other institutions in the border belt have been ordered shut. All leave of Punjab Police and medical personnel in the border areas has been cancelled.
Punjab's border districts include Amritsar, Gurdaspur, Tarn Taran, Ferozepur, Faridkot, Abohar and Fazilka.
Informed sources said the Border Security Force (BSF) was mobilizing its troops and strengthening the security along the border.
Punjab shares a 553-km border with Pakistan.
Equity Markets hit
Key Indian equity indices took a sharp fall around 12:30 p.m. on Thursday, after the army said it had conducted surgical strikes on terror camps across the Line of Control in Jammu and Kashmir, inflicting "significant casualties".
A roller-coaster ride thereafter also saw some indices recovering, albeit marginally, but only to fall again and close significantly lower. The market movement was similar in Pakistan.
The barometer 30-scrip sensitive index (Sensex) of the BSE opened strong at 28,423.14 points on Thursday, against the previous close at 28,292.81 points. By the time the news briefing by the Indian Army had ended, the intra-day fall was as much as 750 points.
After a subsequent volatile session, where some investors were also resorting to value buying amid overall concern over escalation in tension between India and Pakistan, the key index ended with a loss of 465.28 points, or a 1.64 per cent drop, at 27,827.53 points.
But for Tata Consultancy Services, all the 30 Sensex shares ended in the red.
"As markets got first whiff of developments across the border, panic liquidation gripped the stocks enmasse resulting in a sell off across board. However F&O expiry dynamics ensured that liquidation spree did not evolve into a free fall," said Anand James, Chief Market Strategist, Geojit BNP Paribas Financial Services.
At the Karachi Stock Exchange, the movement for KSE-30 was similar. The index, at one point of time, was down over 415 points. But half hour before the closing bell, it was ruling with a loss of 20.31 points, or 0.09 per cent.
India's National Stock Exchange (NSE) closed lower by 153.90 points, or 1.76 per cent, to 8,591.25 points.
The market mood took a beating as soon as the briefing by the Indian Army started.