India talks tough with Pakistan, lodges protest at flag meeting

New Delhi/Jammu: India Monday took a tough stance against Pakistan over the killing and mutilation of two of its soldiers with its army chief asserting that his forces "reserve the right to retaliate" and a strong protest being lodged at the flag meeting along the Line of Control (LoC) in Jammu and Kashmir's Poonch district.

The brigadier-level flag meeting was held at Chakan da Bagh on the LoC, about 250 km northwest of Jammu.

The Jan 8 killing of Lance Naik Sudhakar Singh and Lance Naik Hemraj - who was decapitated and his head taken away - in the Mendhar sector in Poonch district of Jammu and Kashmir by Pakistani troops was a "gruesome and an unpardonable act", army chief General Bikram Singh said.

He added: I expect my commanders on the LoC to be aggressive and offensive."

Asked about Indian Air Force Chief Marshal N.A.K. Browne's remarks that India may have to look for "some other options for compliance" if Pakistan continues to violate the ceasefire, Gen. Singh said that Browne alluded to "diplomatic and economic options". Gen. Singh said the operation would be dealt by the army at a tactical level.

After the flag meeting, Northern Command spokesperson Lt. Col. Rajesh Kalia said in a statement: "Our representative expressed our grave concern over the barbaric act by Pakistani troops in the recent ambush of our patrol in Mendhar Sector. The Indian army raised a strong protest against the heinous mutilation of our deceased soldier's bodies... it was against the tenets of the Geneva Convention as also in contravention to all established norms of soldierly behaviour."

The statement added: "Such a dastardly and cowardly act is totally unacceptable and is a premeditated attempt to undermine the ceasefire agreement of 2003, which can lead to further escalation. Repetition of such acts will not be tolerated."

"The Pakistani delegation leader denied their involvement in the incident and reiterated the false and fabricated allegations that our (Indian) troops crossed the Line of Control and killed one Pakistani soldier and injured another," the statement said.

Earlier Monday, Gen. Singh termed as "pre-planned and pre-meditated" Pakistan's aggression along the LoC.

The army chief said it was possible that the Pakistani army used terrorists as it had done in the past. He said he was not ruling out the involvement of terrorist group Lashkar-e-Toiba founder Hafiz Saeed in the Jan 8 killing of the two Indian soldiers.

Acknowledging there may have been lapses that led to this incident, Gen. Singh said "an immediate inquiry will impact morale of soldiers and that corrective action will be taken later".

"The firing from Pakistan is a manifestation of their frustration. Their troops are not moving forward but we are watching," he said.

"What they (Pakistan) have done is against the ethics of soldiering. My heart goes out to the families of soldiers who were killed and whose bodies were mutilated. It's a gruesome and unpardonable act. Beheading of soldiers is not acceptable," Gen. Bikram Singh told reporters here on the eve of Army Day Monday.

"We will uphold the ceasefire as long as it is maintained. We reserve the right to retaliate at the time and place of our choosing."

He added that pressure needed to be exerted on Pakistan so the severed head of Hemraj was returned. "This has to be done through diplomatic levels," he said.

Gen. Singh said the incursion by the Pakistani army required meticulous planning as there had to be an element of surprise and firepower. He added that it would have taken at least seven to eight days to plan the incursion.

Hemraj's wife and kin had been fasting in their village near Mathura in Uttar Pradesh, demanding that the severed head of her husband be brought back. They called off the fast after Chief Minister Akhilesh Yadav visited them Monday.

This is the third incident in the last 13 years. In May 2000, an Indian army soldier was beheaded by Pakistani troops along the LoC. Last July, two Indian troopers were decapitated by Pakistani soldiers.

Ten ceasefire violations by Pakistan have taken place this year. In 2012, the number was 117 and 61 in 2011. Shelling by Pakistan across the LoC is mainly to provide cover to infiltrating militants.

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