Indians across political affiliations, regions and backgrounds were asking for only one thing after the ghastly Uri terror attack: That India must hit back. Sure they differed on the nature of the retaliation, but no one wanted the Indian army to sit back and let the enemy gloat.
And then late last night, we got the news that at least 20 terrorists had been neutralised in a daring cross-LoC operation by the Indian Army in response to the Uri attack. The story was broken by a web magazine named The Quint. The report said:
Two units of the elite 2 Paras comprising 18-20 soldiers flew across the LoC in the Uri sector in military helicopters and carried out an operation that killed at least 20 suspected terrorists across three terror camps in Pakistan Occupied Kashmir (PoK). Total casualties, including those injured, could be as high as 200, sources said.
As soon as this news broke out, social media began debating whether it was true. Questions were raised as to how such a big news was not broken by any of the usual mainstream media suspects. So what could be the truth?
Quint on its part has stuck to the report. The Quint Editorial Director fully backed the report. In the original piece, Quint had mentioned that military sources revealed this information to them, which was further confirmed with two other independent sources. Today, an update to the story says:
In light of the reactions to this article, The Quint decided to reconfirm the information from its sources. We stand by our story.
Going by general media standards, it is rare to see a media house openly declare that they have confirmed a story from multiple sources. Quint also pointed to some circumstantial evidence. Pakistan’s national carrier Pakistan International Airlines (PIA) had cancelled flights to northern Pakistani cities due to “air space restrictions”. The PIA called off flights to Gilgit and Skardu in Gilgit-Baltistan region in Pakistan-occupied Kashmir (PoK) and Chitral in Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa province.
No reason was given for the closure of air space but officials said that Pakistani warplanes might be in the air to keep vigil due to Indo-Pak tensions after the Uri attack. Were they Pakistani warplanes or did they know that Indian ops were on?
Quint also chose to highlight the Defence Minister’s statement:
“Won’t go into details of what India can do, but sometimes knee-jerk reaction is required.”
Surely the Defence Minister cannot reveal details of covert ops, so was this just a hint of the operations being carried out?
The reaction on social media was mixed. Some users who had tweeted indications of such action 24 hours before the story broke, claimed vindication. Yet some other dismissed this report as untrue and based on a WhatsApp rumour.
National Security Analyst Nitin Gokhale said he had no information about such an operation:
Not to my knowledge https://t.co/yEVx7tm7Ik
— Nitin A. Gokhale (@nitingokhale) September 21, 2016
Journalist Shiv Aroor who has been on the defence beat also trashed the report as a Whatsapp rumour, saying that the army vehemently denies it:
@abhijitmajumder Whatsapp journalism. Vehemently denied by Army. Even if true, idiotic to report. Would endanger operations. Juvenile.
— Shiv Aroor (@ShivAroor) September 21, 2016
On the other hand a defence correspondent Sumann Sharma fully backed the Quint report:
Quint story is correct https://t.co/Z7z5bAvWTh
— Sumann Sharrma (@SumannSharrma) September 21, 2016
The entire episode was reminiscent of the cross-border strike in Myanmar last year, where details of the event were shrouded in secrecy. While media reports and sources claimed it was a cross-border attack, the army had stated that the operations were at two locations along the Indo-Myanmar border in Manipur and Nagaland. It was only later that Minister of State for Information and Broadcasting Rajyavardhan Singh Rathore said that it was a cross-border operation. One report mentioned that many such operations had been conducted in the past, but “Only a few of these operations have been acknowledged so far”.
The reason for this is easy to understand. Firstly, no nation would like to openly admit that they violated the sovereignty of another nation by intruding into their territory. In Kashmir, crossing the LoC would mean defying the Simla Agreement of 1972, which said that both sides must respect the Line of Control. Any such transgression would allow Pakistan to cry victim. Secondly, revealing details of such operations can endanger the men involved in the mission. Hence secrecy could be key.
Coming back to the current case, it is indeed difficult to say either way. It is understandable that the army would not like to confirm covert operations, especially during or soon after the operations take place. It is highly possible that once they came to know that news had been leaked, they began leaking news to deny the existence of such an operation in order to secure troops and maintain the covert nature of the operation.
On the other hand it is also possible that the entire thing never happened. Indian media has been earlier found cooking up stories. But in this case, the media house Quint categorically states the number of sources it has confirmed it from, plus the circumstantial evidence. Generally when a media house gets it wrong, these two factors are missing.
All said and done, at this moment all we can do is wait. Wait for the army or any official source to confirm any such news. We may get a Myanmar-esque confirmation that the operations were within Indian territory and not PoK. Or we may not even get any confirmation of the incident anytime soon, since it was a covert operation. Or we may get some news once the UNGA meet ends. And it may even so happen that this attack is never confirmed, owing to the Simla Agreement issue. At the moment, we must just trust our army to do what is needed, “at a time and place of their choosing“.