September 30, 2016 - 6:54 AM
ISLAMABAD - In New Delhi, they say that highly trained Indian soldiers slipped across the de facto border and into Pakistani-controlled Kashmir in a daring nighttime raid, killing anti-India militants preparing to launch attacks.
In Islamabad, they say only one Indian soldier made it across the border — and he was captured — with Pakistani forces easily driving back the other Indians, who retreated as soon as they encountered resistance.
India says none of its soldiers were killed. Pakistan says eight Indian soldiers died.
Who is telling the truth? No outsider knows for sure. The region where the fighting occurred is deep in the Himalayas, along the Line of Control that has long split Kashmir between India and Pakistan. Access to the area is restricted on both sides. Officials in both countries are leaking select details to reporters, while announcing almost nothing openly.
But one thing is clear: The dueling tales of courageous forces serve politics on both sides of the border, with powerful forces in each country able to proclaim their courage in the face of aggression.
Tension along the India-Pakistan border has grown sharply since a deadly Sept. 18 attack on an Indian military base in Kashmir. New Delhi blamed the attack on militants belonging to the outlawed group Jaish-e-Mohammed, which has its headquarters in Pakistan. Islamabad denies that.
In India, where Prime Minister Narendra Modi had been facing increasing demands in his own party to punish Islamabad for the attack, the story of a successful raid ratcheted down that pressure.
In Pakistan, where the military wields immense power behind the scenes, the story of killed and retreating Indian soldiers weakens the criticism it began to face after India announced its "surgical strike" in an unusual Thursday announcement on live TV.
While politicians have long massaged the truth to their own benefit, the practice has been taken to an extreme in both Pakistan and India.
"They do exploit situations and spin things to take away public attention from their real problems," said I.A. Rehman, a member of the independent Human Rights Commission of Pakistan.
Many of the most basic facts are now in dispute. India said the raid had targeted "terrorist launch pads," inside the Pakistan-controlled portion of Kashmir, where a string of anti-Indian militant groups have long had bases. Later, a high-ranking Indian official speaking on condition of anonymity said that Indian troops had crossed the Line of Control on foot, attacked the militant bases and crossed back into Indian territory without suffering a single death. A "significant" number of militants were killed, officials said.
On Friday, though, Pakistani officials, also speaking on condition of anonymity, said Pakistani forces had seen the Indians as they approached the Line of Control, and easily pushed them back with gunfire that left eight dead.
The officials also said that one Indian soldier had been captured just on the Line of the Control and was now in Pakistani custody. India acknowledges that one of its soldiers is in Pakistani custody, but insists he was not involved in the raid and had accidentally strayed into the wrong area. Lost people from both countries are fairly common along the mountainous length of the Line of Control, which is poorly marked and often unfenced.
Both countries denied the other's version of what had happened.
As usual, the villagers who live near the Line of Control paid a price for the tension.
On Thursday, Indian authorities evacuated thousands of villagers living close to the frontier to temporary shelters, said Pawan Kotwal, a top regional official.
But with the border area largely calm, he said most returned to their farms after daybreak Friday.
The villagers are familiar with the drill, though evacuations have been rare since tension along the border declined dramatically following a 2003 India-Pakistan cease-fire accord.
"People living in border areas know things by experience," he said. "They would only need some assistance in case of urgent evacuation."
Meanwhile, Indian and Pakistani troops exchanged gunfire at two forward posts along the Line of Control overnight Thursday, Indian officials said. No casualties were reported.
Sharma reported from New Delhi. Associated Press writers Tim Sullivan in New Delhi, Aijaz Hussain in Srinagar, India, and Zarar Khan in Islamabad contributed to this report.
News from © The Associated Press, 2016