Pakistani troops crossed the Line of Control (LoC) on Tuesday to murder two Indian soldiers, cutting off the head of one and slitting the throat of the other in an incident condemned as a “grave provocation” by India.
The brutal attack threatened to set back the peace process between the nuclear-armed neighbours and ratcheted up tensions along the 700 km LoC two days after the countries played a cricket match in Delhi.
At about 8.45pm, heavy firing started in the Mendhar sector, near the site of the incident and was continuing at the time of going to print. Both sides fired heavy mortars.
Army chief General Bikram Singh briefed defence minister A K Antony and national security advisor Shiv Shankar Menon on the incident. Menon in turn apprised Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, who is in Kochi.
Administration sources said that a group of six soldiers had gone patrolling when they were attacked half a kilometre inside Indian territory in a commando-style operation at around midday.
The attackers were troops of the 29 Baloch regiment. The area was covered with dense fog at that time.
The Pakistanis ambushed the soldiers from behind, using khukri-type daggers to kill two Indian jawans. The other Indians opened fire but it is not known if any Pakistanis were injured. Mendhar is about 300 km from Jammu.
The murdered soldiers are Lance Naik Hemraj and Lance Naik Sudhakar Singh.
"We have recovered the headless body of Sudhakar,” said a top Army official, wishing not to be named. Army sources said the head had been carried away by the Pakistanis.
"The government will take up the incident with Pakistan Government. We expect Islamabad to honour the ceasefire agreement strictly," the Defence Ministry said in a statement.
The Director Generals for Military Operations (DGMOs) of both sides have spoken to each other on the incident.
The Pakistani move was apparent retaliation for an alleged attack by Indian troops. Islamabad summoned India’s deputy high commissioner on Monday to protest against what it termed an incident of “unprovoked Indian attack” that killed one of their soldiers and injured another on Sunday.
India denied that its troops had crossed the LoC, and alleged that the other side had fired unprovoked and damaged the roof of a civilian house.
The savagery of the Pakistani attack is reminiscent of the mutilation of one of India’s war heroes from the 1999 Kargil campaign, Captain Saurabh Kalia, whose father is fighting to get the murder of his son categorised as a war crime. Senior Pakistan official Rehman Malik speculated on a trip to India last month that Kalia may have died due to weather conditions, one of a series of remarks that riled his Indian interlocutors.
The Indian side says there were 51 ceasefire violations by Pakistan in 2011 and 33 in 2012 until August. The ceasefire has been in force since 2003.
Crossing the LoC is considered serious because maintaining the sanctity of the line is one of the top confidence-measuring building measures between the two sides.
Relations have been on the mend after hitting a low in the wake of a deadly attack by Pakistani terrorists on Mumbai in 2008. A new visa regime has been operationalised, and there has been some progress on trade talks, though Pakistan’s promise of granting India ‘most favoured nation’ status has yet to be fulfilled.