It is tempting to say that the view of the “surgical strikes” by India boils down to "tomayto"—“tomaato". The statement by Pakistan's Inter-Services Public Relations (ISPR) does say that an exchange of fire began at 2.30 a.m. and ended at 8 a.m., as India has announced, even while saying that the exchange took place along the Bhimber, Hotspring, Kel and Lipa sectors.
Those basic details have been acknowledged.So the question is what do we call them? Tomayto or tomaato? It is not that simple. It suits Pakistan to not call them surgical strikes because the term presumes precision attack guided by unambiguous intelligence mixed with a clear element of surprise. Equally, it is important for India to insist they were surgical strikes precisely for the same reasons.
It is hardly surprising that Islamabad is dismissing New Delhi’s claims and is instead calling it exchange of fire making it sound like a routine affair. For any military surgical strikes are a punch in the gut or groin when it is least expected and prepared for. It does not suit Pakistan’s military to be surgically struck.
Sitting here in a sedate Naperville I am not going to resolve these conflicting claims but then even if you are sitting within earshot of the action as civilians it is next to impossible to tell what is what. It will remain we said-they said. However, as long as there is perception within India that Prime Minister Narendra Modi came good on his word to punish those involved in the Uri attack it is useful. On the Pakistan side, as long as civilians believe that it was a mere routine skirmish along sectors where such skirmishes happen all the time it is good for both Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif and his army.
I seriously doubt if India will go beyond announcing the surgical strikes and care to illustrate them with any specific evidence. On balance, it is wise not to be exhibitionist about it other than claiming whatever they think the army did along those sectors. At the political level, it is essential for Prime Minister Modi that the people see the Indian action as decisive and in some way retaliation for the Uri attack. The narrative of a decisive prime minister who will display a quiet, unwavering resolve has to be justified.
As it always happens in such actions there are parallel realities depending on where you are. In India, there appears to be a sense of triumph over the strikes. In Pakistan, there is a sense of satisfaction that it was merely an exchange of fire. It is hardly for me to disabuse either of their points of view because I know nothing more than what I read and see in the South Asian media. When you read and watch the South Asian media, you cannot tell which one of the two did not happen or did happen. Come to think of it, that is true of any media anywhere reporting such military engagements which can never be fully verified.
So the best option is to just say nothing. And yet I said it in 524 words.