Indian army chief turns heat on Pakistan as border commanders meet to ease tension

STORY: India’s army chief on Monday (January 14) held out the threat of retaliating against Pakistan for the killing of two soldiers at the de facto border in Kashmir, saying he had asked his ground commanders to be aggressive in the face of provocation.

General Bikram Singh’s strong remarks, amid mounting public anger at the alleged decapitation of one of the slain soldiers, appeared set to ratchet up tensions further with Pakistan, although analysts said a breakdown in ties was highly unlikely.

Islamabad blames India for the latest crisis in ties.

The two nations have fought three wars, two over Kashmir, since independence in 1947 and are now both nuclear-armed.

Terming the beheading of the soldier as “gruesome”, Singh told a news conference India reserved the right to retaliate at a time and place of its choosing.

Last week’s fighting was the worst outbreak of violence in Kashmir, the Himalayan region both nations claim, since the two sides agreed a ceasefire nine years ago

Both armies have lost two soldiers each in the fighting along parts of the 740-km (460-mile) ceasefire line this month. The head of one of soldiers was severed, New Delhi said, inflaming tempers in the country and prompting his family to start a hunger strike demanding that the remains be brought back.

“It was a gruesome act, most unpardonable act. We have launched a very strong protest in this regard through the government, through the DGMO’s and this is being taken up today. Alongside, this act defies all logic, it’s against the very principles and rules of engagement, it is against the very ethics of being a soldier and professionalism and therefore in very strong terms we have taken up this case with the government of Pakistan through our government,” General Bikram Singh said in New Delhi.

His remarks which came hours before local commanders met at a crossing point on the ceasefire line for the first time since the fighting erupted to try and reduce tensions.

There was no immediate word on what happened at the meeting.

Singh said the Indian army would honour the ceasefire in Kashmir, so long as Pakistan did, but would respond immediately to any violation of the truce.

Indian defence analyst and former Director of the Institute for Defence Studies and Analyses, Uday Bhaskar, said that both nuclear-armed nations needed to exercise caution while dealing with such tense situations.

“Today’s flag meeting will allow the two sided at Brigade level to review the procedures to find out what led to the cycle of tension and violence, which we saw from last Sunday. And concurrently see whether there is a need to introduce new procedures or new commitments on both sides, so that this kind of across border, both movement and firing does not take place. And I repeat the point that India and Pakistan have to be very careful about how they deal with this issue. They are both nuclear weapon powers, the international community is very concerned, if tension goes out of hand,” said Bhaskar.

The family members of the slain soldier, Hemraj Singh, are sitting on a hunger strike demanding retribution and that his severed head be brought back.

India and Pakistan have fought three wars since their independence in 1947, two of them over the Himalayan region of Kashmir.

India considers the entire region of snow-capped mountains and fertile valleys an integral part of its territory. Muslim Pakistan contests that and demands implementation of a 1948 U.N. Security Council resolution for a plebiscite to determine the wishes of the mostly Muslim people of Kashmir.