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India's army chief warns Pakistan of retaliation
Publication Date : 15-01-2013
India's army chief has warned of retaliation against Pakistan for the killing of two soldiers, as the nuclear-armed rivals appeared no closer to calming days of deadly border clashes despite a meeting of their military commanders.
General Bikram Singh's comments are the toughest words yet from India, which has accused Pakistani troops of crossing over to the India-administered part of the disputed Kashmir region and killing one soldier and decapitating another and taking away the head, in a week of escalating border skirmishes.
Pakistan has denied the charge and said two of its soldiers have been killed in Indian firing.
The violence is the worst between the two sides since a ceasefire was agreed in 2003, raising fears that it could undo the little progress from a sluggish peace process between the rivals.
"We have given the freedom to local commanders to retaliate at a place and time of their choosing," Gen Singh told a press conference in New Delhi yesterday.
"This is in relation to what has happened," he said when asked to clarify if the retaliation was for the mutilation of the Indian soldiers early last week.
His remarks came hours before senior army commanders of the two sides met for half an hour in Poonch in Kashmir, where they agreed to respect the ceasefire but could not come up with definite steps to stop the firefights which were reported overnight as well.
An Indian military officer with knowledge of yesterday's meeting said a strong protest was lodged with the Pakistani army which reiterated its ignorance of any illegal crossings by its troops into India.
Earlier in Delhi, a combative Gen Singh said: "What happened to the soldiers is an unpardonable act. I expect our commanders on the LoC (the Line of Control or de facto border) to be aggressive and offensive when provoked.
"We will uphold the ceasefire as long as the adversary upholds it."
But the army chief said he did not expect the situation to worsen, describing the skirmishes as localised to areas with a history of such transgression and firefights.
"The ceasefire is holding out to a large extent along other sectors of the border," he said. "These are tactical operations and they are being dealt with at the local tactical level."
Gen Singh's tough words are, however, in contrast to the nuanced comments of Indian Foreign Minister Salman Khurshid, who warned against losing sight of the benefits of the peace process to any calls for immediate action against Pakistan.
Many in India have drawn parallels between the latest clashes and a conflict in 1999 when Pakistan-backed Islamist infiltrators occupied the heights in Kargil, in the north of Indian Kashmir. India lost hundreds of troops before reoccupying the mountains after fighting that almost triggered a fourth war between them.
Relations between the South Asian foes plummeted after the 2008 Mumbai attacks by a Pakistan-based militant group but have since steadied, although skirmishes have continued to be reported by both sides in Kashmir.
Meanwhile, members of the beheaded soldier's family continued with a fast demanding that Gen Singh visit them and help bring back the severed head.
"That has been taken up at the government level of the two sides," Gen Singh said when asked what was being done to bring back the soldier's head.