I have been in Neelum valley during the past two weeks. From the place i am putting up at, one can see Indian and Pakistani positions on the opposite hills. When I woke up on Thursday morning , I had no idea that India claimed it carried out its “surgical strikes” all across the LoC in Azad Jammu & Kashmir (AJK). I logged on to Facefook 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 exactly happened there. In quest of finding the details I spoke to many people. I came to know that Pakistani soldiers present at an outpost in Dudnayal sector witnessed unusual movement in 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 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 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 that the Indian military was well prepared to launch a surprise assault on Pakistan Army’s outposts, but they failed.
Except this one incident, we haven’t 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 situation in the town. There was no panic, and life was going on as normal.
However, some people were curious about India’s claim and also 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 military positions. If anything happens anywhere, the news travels fast. Since I know the area and the people as I covered Neelum Valley as a journalist for a long time before and after the 2003 ceasefire agreement. I asked many people from different areas if they saw anything unusual along the LoC and their answer was invariably in the negative, except in Dudnayal sector. Neelum valley runs parallel to the LoC. In many places, the LoC runs along the Neelum River river. It was the worst affected region during the Kashmir uprising of 1990s. Hundreds of people were killed, wounded or maimed and public & private properties worth tens of millions of rupees were destroyed.
Irrespective of 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. I have been covering Kashmir for almost two decades and have covered militancy extensively which gives me an 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 does not allow them to carry out such strike. The entire area is mountainous and 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 aerial distance from the LoC 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. And most importantly, there are no militant camps along the LoC so raiding those imaginary camps and killing people there is only a myth. If there were camps and if India would attack, they would not return alive. How come they could stay in the area for about 4 hours and no one even saw them?
Zulfiqar Ali has been mainly associated with the BBC for nearly 20 years, recipient of the BBC’s Global News Award 2012 of best reporting in the West and Central Asia. Have also worked as a stringer for Reuters” news agency, the French news agency “AFP” and have written on Kashmir politics for the Pakistani English language monthly magazine,Herald. He has covered all aspects of Kashmir conflict.