New Delhi: Less than two hours before brigade commanders of the Indian and Pakistani armies met, the Chief of Army Staff, General Bikram Singh, said today that the Indian military will retaliate if it is provoked. He also said that the beheading of an Indian soldier killed on January 8 in the Mendhar sector of Jammu and Kashmir was a pre-planned operation by the Pakistani Army. And, in a first official admission, that there have been other incidents of Indian soldiers being beheaded.
General Singh admitted at a press conference today that there could have been technical errors in patrolling the border, which allowed Pakistani troops to cross over and ambush the Indian soldiers on December 8. An inquiry, he said, would be conducted later. For now, General Singh said, "I have told my unit commanders, sub unit commanders, and gate and other commanders, to retaliate, to be aggressive and offensive when provoked and fired upon."
He emphasised that this was a tactical level operation, localised, and India's response would not be disproportionate. "We will uphold the ceasefire, but we will not be passive when fired at."
At 1 pm today, as the Army chief continued his long Press meet, the Indian and Pakistan armies held a flag meeting at Chakan da Bagh in Poonch along the Line of Control in Kashmir. The short 35-minute meeting was the first on-ground contact between the two Armies since tension built up at the border last week; Pakistan agreed to the meeting after four days of India asking for one. The Indian Army reportedly voiced concern at the violation of the ceasefire by Pakistani troops and the mutilation of the bodies of two jawans killed in Pakistani firing on December 8; one of the bodies was beheaded. The Indian Army also reportedly asked for the severed head to be returned.
"It was a gruesome and unpardonable act. This act defied all logic. This is against the rules of soldiering," said General Singh, admitting that there had been another such incident in 2011 when two soldiers from the Rajput regiment were reportedly beheaded in Kupwara district of Jammu and Kashmir.
The Army Chief denied any attempt to conceal these incidents, saying details had been shared by the Army with the Defence Ministry.
General Singh said the ambush of the Indian soldiers had been pre-planned and the sequence of events bore that out. "It would have taken at least seven to 10 days to execute," General Singh said, adding that the Indian Army had Intelligence input that Pakistan's elite commandos, the Special Service Group, was also involved in the cross border raid in which, he said, Pakistani troops crossed over to Indian territory and ambushed Indian soldiers, killing two of them.
General Singh denied Pakistan's allegation that the week-long tension along the Line of Control was triggered by Indian aggression on December 6. "The Indian Army had not launched any operation on the 6th," the General said, adding that, Pakistan first tried to spread "lies" and then" tried to justify the beheading."
There has been exchange of fire everyday for the last eight days in the Poonch sector of Jammu and Kashmir. India says Pakistan has breached the ceasefire repeatedly by targeting Indian posts. Pakistan has accused India of targeting its troops. Islamabad has also denied the mutilation of the bodies of the Indian soldiers and offered a United Nations inquiry, which India flatly refused.
India apprehends that the firing is being used as a cover for infiltration of militants into its territory. The police in Jammu and Kashmir are on high alert to block any cross-border attempt to escalate militancy.
General Singh said, "Pakistan uses terrorists for operations. We cannot rule out the possibility. We have known them to use that."