A group of heavily armed Pakistani intruders shot and killed five Indian soldiers in Poonch sector of Jammu and Kashmir in an audacious cross-border strike that threatened to derail the peace dialogue between the two countries.
The assault on Monday night triggered an uproar in Parliament amid allegations that the attackers included members of Pakistani army, a charge that was denied by Islamabad.
Defence minister AK Antony told Parliament that the attack was carried out by “terrorists along with persons dressed in Pakistan army uniform.”
At midnight, a group of six soldiers left Cheetah Post on a patrol along the Indian side of the Line of Control, 180 km southwest of Srinagar, said a senior army official who didn't want to be named. Barely an hour into the patrol, the group was ambushed by 20 heavily armed men, many of who were wearing Pakistani army fatigues.
Details were sketchy, but there was an exchange of fire for about 15 minutes in which four men of 21 Bihar and one of 14 Maratha Light Infantry (MLI) were killed. An MLI soldier was also injured in the attack, one of the worst since the 2003 ceasefire between the two countries.
The attack is likely to cast a shadow over India’s efforts to resume talks with Pakistan that were stalled after a similar strike on in Mendhar sector, barely 30km from the place of Tuesday’s ambush.
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Though Pakistan denied its army was involved, its deputy high commissioner Mansoor Ali Khan was summoned to the South Block and a strong protest lodged.
As reported by HT on August 6, the government was looking to engage newly elected Pakistan PM Nawaz Sharif. But, it would now be under immense pressure as was evident in Parliament, where Opposition demanded an immediate explanation and a befitting reply to Pakistan.
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Listing Chinese incursions in the Ladakh sector and Pakistani aggression along the Line of Control (LoC), the Opposition dubbed the UPA’s foreign policy as inept. They asked the government to respond swiftly and strongly, extending their full support.
Responding to the opposition uproar in Parliament, Antony said India would take all necessary steps to uphold the sanctity of the Line of Control (LoC) and was capable of protecting its border.
His explanation, however, drew flak from the Opposition which contended that the government had given an “escape route” to Pakistan by declaring that the raid was carried out by terrorists.
Leader of the Opposition in Rajya Sabha Arun Jaitley described Antony’s statement as “ambiguous” and hoped it was a “typographical error."
Jaitley said, “You are almost providing in this sentence (statement) an opportunity to Pakistan to say that they were non-state actors.”
Army chief General Bikram Singh is expected to visit Poonch on Wednesday. Singh had said after the January 8 raid that the army reserved its right to retaliate against Pakistan at a time and place of its choosing. The same holds true even in this case, a senior official said.
India is likely to call for a flag meeting in the Poonch sector.
Tuesday’s strike came when 21 Bihar, guarding Poonch sector, was moving out and a new unit -- 14 Maratha Light Infantry -- was coming in.
“They play mind-games when such a switchover takes place but it’s usually not racheted up to such levels,” said an army officer.
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