Plain, simple logic says that if the Indian troops carried out 'surgical strikes' in Azad Kashmir as claimed, Pakistan would have retaliated and immediately raised the issue internationally.
After all, how can silence over any cross-border intrusion suit Pakistan? Taking an Indian aggression lying down means encouraging an already belligerent Hindu nationalist government of Prime Minister Narendra Modi to act more belligerently. It would be opening gates for other such future assaults and accepting Indian hegemony. Absence of a pro-active military, political or diplomatic stance from Pakistan in the face of Indian aggression would also damage the struggle of Kashmiris against New Delhi's rule in the occupied valley. It is tantamount to foregoing the right to defend ourselves and surrendering the country's sovereignty.
Pakistan remains justified in asking why have not the Indians produced any evidence of their much-trumpeted surgical strikes, including bodies if they took them back? Why the Indian leadership has not been able to pinpoint the places where the damage was done or the targets that were destroyed or killed?
Pakistan, according to General Bajwa, welcomes an independent inquiry to verify the authenticity of the Indian claims. "Our side remains open to the United Nations observers and journalists," he said. This position is in contrast to that of Indians, who have barred independent journalists and observers from visiting the troubled occupied Kashmir region.
Many Indians may find it ironic that despite all the chest-thumping and claims of executing punishing surgical strikes on the alleged training camps of militants, Pakistan Army is asking a simple question "where did these occur and how come they have remained ignorant of the fact?"
And Pakistan is not the only one challenging the false Indian narrative. The United Nations' Military Observer Group (UNMOGIP) also failed to find any evidence to verify the Indian claim, while no other independent source has yet managed to confirm it either.
Even India's half-baked version is enough to torpedo its own claims. Firstly, the term 'surgical strikes' is generally associated with airstrikes. They are carried out with precision weapons, delivered through aircraft, helicopter, armed drones or cruise missiles. Any such strike is difficult to defend because of its speed and element of surprise. According to India's own claim it was a ground assault.
Secondly, if it was a ground intrusion, as claimed, it is impossible for any force – small or large – to penetrate even a couple of kilometers inside Azad Kashmir, hit the targets and return undetected on foot in a matter of four to five hours in one of the world's most sensitive and heavily deployed frontiers.
The fact is that Indians targeted Pakistani posts, as they always do, from across the border in which two Pakistani soldiers were martyred and that resulted in an exchange of fire. Nothing less and nothing more.
Perhaps it's not even the matter of debate now whether Indians really carried out their much propagated 'surgical strikes' in Azad Kashmir or not.
The pertinent question, however, is then why is the Indian leadership making such false claims? Is there any design behind this madness of taking the credit of executing surgical strikes that never happened?
One obvious explanation of this increased rhetoric is that the domestic compulsions of Indian politics is forcing Modi government to heighten tensions, which suits Modi ahead of elections in a couple of crucial states. The Indian premier will be able to rally behind his party the conservative Hindu vote bank to whom he promised that he would get tough with Pakistan in response to the alleged terrorism fomented from its soil.
The second reason behind India's white lies is that even without conducting any "surgical" or "non-surgical strikes," it lowered the threshold for any possible conflict between the two countries. This is a dangerous development in this nuclear-armed region as New Delhi has practically war-gamed the possibility of such a strike and underlined to the world that it would like to take such a step.
Indian security officials describe New Delhi's aggressive posture as "defensive-offensive", which is a stark departure from the past "defensive" one. Under this policy, being dubbed as the Doval Doctrine, New Delhi plans to build pressure on Pakistan on several fronts. And the LoC is just one of the many. Hurting Pakistan's economy, sponsoring and fomenting terrorism in Balochistan and Karachi and pushing a diplomatic offensive to portray the country as a breeding ground of regional and international terrorism remain some of the other announced and unannounced components of this strategy.
The Indian leadership believes that their country's growing economic clout and strategic partnership with the United States would allow them to get away with brinkmanship in order to throw Pakistan on the back foot, equate Kashmir's indigenous freedom struggle with terrorism and even scrap the World Bank-brokered water sharing agreement between the two countries. But this is their wishful thinking as Pakistan Army troops are fully alert on Eastern borders to respond to any aggression by India.
This Indian strategy has made South Asia as the world's most unsafe nuclear flash-point.
It would be wrong to assume that Indians started their overt diplomatic offensive and the covert efforts to destabilize Pakistan through terrorism after the September 18 attack on their Brigade Headquarters in Uri or because of the ongoing popular anti-India uprising in the occupied Kashmir following the killing of 22-year-old Kashmiri freedom fighter Burhan Muzaffar Wani on July 8. They have been working on this strategy and executing it in parts since Modi assumed power. Remember the arrest of Indian spy Kulbhushan Yadav in March 2016 from Balochistan. Yadav had been operating a network involved in terrorist activities in parts of Balochistan and Karachi.
In our case while the masses have rallied around the Pakistani Armed Forces, the political leadership has to take the initiative, show vision and go beyond offering lip-service in tackling and countering the Indian threat.
Pakistan needs a sustained multi-pronged approach on a war-footing to secure its national interests and ensure continued diplomatic and political support to Kashmir's freedom struggle.
Firstly, it involves putting your own house in order and taking some basic steps like appointing a fulltime foreign minister to spearhead the country's diplomatic efforts and counter the Indian moves to internationally isolate Islamabad. It also requires rejuvenating and restructuring the dormant Kashmir Committee and appointing as its head a person of diplomatic background.
Pakistan also needs to support the Kashmiri diaspora in the western countries by giving them the lead and ownership of efforts aimed at highlighting the Indian atrocities and human rights violations as well as underlining the need for a plebiscite in line with the UN resolution.
Pakistan also has to unapologetically spell out through a sustained international campaign that a genuine freedom struggle cannot be equated with terrorism. The central contradiction in Pakistan-India relations is not terrorism, but the unresolved Kashmir dispute. There should be no compromise on this position.
Experience shows that bilateralism has miserably failed between Pakistan and India in resolving the Kashmir conflict. While Pakistan should remain open to direct talks, but these should not bar it from internationalizing this issue at every available forum.
Islamabad also must reconsider its foreign policy particularly towards Afghanistan, which has joined hands with India to destabilize Pakistan. The United States and its NATO allies have been using Pakistan as a scapegoat for their policy failures in Afghanistan. They are building pressure on Islamabad by giving a free-hand to India in the war-ravaged state. Pakistan must refuse to bow to the pressure and demands of "Do More" and ask Washington to address its concerns regarding the use of Afghan soil against the country.
Resolving Pakistan's internal challenges – no matter how small they are – should also be a priority to deny Indians from exploiting our internal vulnerabilities. This requires smart politics, some give and take and precise operations in some of the volatile parts of the country.
Pakistan Armed Forces have the capacity and ability to counter any Indian aggression, but the fourth generation warfare cannot be won until all the state institutions, including the media, are supporting this effort. Pakistan can only ensure regional peace if it is politically stable and united, economically vibrant and militarily strong.
The writer is an eminent journalist who regularly contributes for print and electronic media.