India: Foreign secretary differs with defence minister, says 'surgical strikes' were carried out in the past too

The foreign secretary said 'the army had carried out target-specific, limited-calibre, counter-terrorist operations across the LoC in the past too. Photograph:( Getty )

New Delhi, Delhi, India Oct 19, 2016, 12.31 PM (IST)

Indian foreign secretary S Jaishankar on Tuesday is understood to have differed with the claims of defence minister Manohar Parrikar on the "surgical strikes" carried out by the Indian Army's special forces across the LoC on September 29 to demolish terror camps.

Briefing the parliamentary panel on external affairs, the foreign secretary was quoted by MPs as saying "the army had carried out target-specific, limited-calibre, counter-terrorist operations across the LoC in the past too but this is for the first time the government has gone public about it."

The comments assume significance as the defence minister last week rejected the Congress party's claims that "surgical strikes" were undertaken during their tenure too. Many former military officials had described the past actions as "covert operations", but agreed with Parrikar that "surgical strikes" were undertaken for the first time.

The foreign secretary also told the panel that while India has been engaging with Pakistan post the September 29 "surgical strikes", no "calendar" has so far been prepared regarding future engagement and its level with Islamabad, members said on condition of anonymity.

Replying to a question, he said people-to-people contact would continue and there was no plan to stop it.

During the two-and-a-half-hour meeting, vice chief of army staff Lt Gen Bipin Rawat also gave details of the strikes targeting militant launch pads across the LoC. They told the panel that the strikes have fulfilled their purpose as of now. When a Congress member wanted to know whether similar operations could be carried out in the future as well, the government's representatives said the strikes have caused a nagging doubt in the Pakistani establishment as to whether India will carry out similar operations in the future.

When asked about the casualties they could inflict on the militants, the officials said the army would cross the LoC to carry out strikes and not to collect evidence.

Jaishankar sought to skirt the issue of the UN Military Observer Group in India and Pakistan stating that it did not witness any action along the LoC at the time the "surgical strikes" took place. He said since panel chairman Shashi Tharoor had been associated with the body, he would not like to say anything.

During the meeting, there was a brief exchange of words between a BJP and a Left party member when the former raised the issue of security of MPs after the strikes. Some members said the topic of the meeting was national security and not individual security.

Defence secretary G Mohan Kumar and K K Sharma, director general of the Border Security Force, were also present at the meeting, besides the foreign secretary and the vice chief of army staff.

(WION, this story first appeared in DNA)