New Delhi: Contradicting claims made by Defence Minister Manohar Parrikar last week, Foreign Secretary S Jaishankar on Tuesday said that the Indian Army had carried out "target specific, limited-calibre, counter-terrorist operations" across the Line of Control in the past too but this is for the first time the government has gone public about it.
Jaishankar gave this information to the Parliamentary Committee on External Affairs when he was specifically asked by MPs whether surgical strikes have been done in the past.
"Professionally done, target-specific, limited calibre counter-terrorist operations have been carried out across the LoC in the past too, but this is for the first time that the government has made it public," according to sources present in the meeting.
Parrikar had last week rejected Congress' claims that surgical strikes were undertaken during the United Progressive Alliance government too.
He had asserted that it was the first time that surgical strikes had taken place in the aftermath of the Uri terror attack and what was undertaken previously were operations locally executed by commanders without involving the government.
However, later, Foreign Secretary S Jaishankar said whether cross-LoC surgical strikes were undertaken by the Army in the past only the military will know as no "message" about such assaults were conveyed.
"What FS said is that the key issue is that we went public after conducting the surgical strikes which conveyed a politico-military message. Whether any previous crossings had been done only the Army would know. But it is irrelevant anyway because there was no message," sources in the government said.
The meeting of the Standing Committee was attended among others by Congress vice-president Rahul Gandhi. During the meeting, the members were briefed by senior officers on India-Pakistan relations with specific reference to the September 29 cross-border surgical strikes.
Vice Chief of Army Staff, Lt General Bipin Rawat, Foreign Secretary S Jaishankar, Defence Secretary G Mohan Kumar and Border Security Force Director General KK Sharma were among those who apprised the panel members of the Indian Army's surgical strikes on terror launch pads across the Line of Control.
Panel member Rahul Gandhi attended the meeting but did not raise any question, informed sources said.
The senior officials answered the questions raised by the committee members.
"Such attacks have taken place in the past too. We went there according to our plan, hit the target and returned, but these were never made public," Deputy Chief of Army Bipin Rawat was also quoted as saying, by the sources.
Sources also said that during the hour-long meeting the Foreign Secretary never used the word surgical strikes, and instead he used the words "professionally targeted counter attack on terrorists".
He said soon after the operations had ended, the Director General Military Operations of the Pakistan Army was informed about the strikes.
In the meeting, no video evidence was shown to the members and no member sought such evidence. When asked about the casualty they could inflict on the terrorists, the officials said the Army had crossed the LoC to carry out strikes and not to collect evidence.
Responding to a query by one member, Jaishankar said that talks with Pakistan are going on but not at the Foreign Secretary level. He also told the committee that while India has been engaging with Pakistan post the September 29 surgical strikes, but no "calendar" has so far been prepared regarding future engagement with Islamabad, members said on condition of anonymity.
The government representatives told the panel that the strikes have fulfilled the purpose as of now and there will always be a nagging doubt in the Pakistani establishment whether India will carry out similar operations in the future. A Congress member wanted to know whether similar operations could be carried out in the future.
The government representatives said the strikes were carried out after a "lot has been suffered".
Jaishankar also informed the members that there is no government policy with regard to ban on Pakistani artistes.
On China recently extending the technical hold on India's efforts for a United Nations ban on chief of Jaish-e-Mohammad terror group and Pathankot attack mastermind Masood Azhar, the Foreign Secretary said New Delhi is working on the issue.
When a member of the Committee raised the issue of India's failure to get JeM chief named in the BRICS Goa declaration when terror outfits like ISIS figured in the document, Jaishankar gave the same answer that the establishment was working on it.
Jaishankar sought to skirt the issue of UN Military Observer Group in India and Pakistan stating that it did not witness any action at LoC during the surgical strikes. He said since panel chairman Shashi Tharoor had been associated with the body, he would not like to say anything.
One of the members sought to know about action taken in Jammu and Kashmir to control the current unrest. The member also remarked that even after the surgical strikes, the condition in Kashmir Valley has not improved.
The member was informed about the actions taken in Kashmir by one of the senior officials, while the DG BSF briefed about the actions taken to guard the border areas.
During the meeting, there was a brief exchange of words between a BJP and 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.
Special Secretary Internal Security MK Singhla informed the panel about the types of security being extended to the VIPs.
The Standing Committee on External Affairs has 31 members, including 21 from the Lok Sabha and 10 from the Rajya Sabha. It is headed by Congress MP Shashi Tharoor.
Last week, members of the Standing Committee on Defence were briefed on the surgical strikes, that came days after the September 18 terror attack on an Army camp in Uri town of Jammu and Kashmir that left 19 soldiers martyred.
(With Agency inputs)