x Abu Dhabi, UAETuesday 23 January 2018

India orders 'aggressive' response to any Pakistan firing

India's army chief has held out the threat of retaliating against Pakistan for the killing of two soldiers at the de facto border in Kashmir.

NEW DELHI // India's army chief 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.

Gen Bikram Singh's strong remarks yesterday, amid mounting public anger at the alleged decapitation of one of the slain soldiers.

Terming the beheading of the soldier as "gruesome", Gen Singh told a news conference: "We reserve the right to retaliate at a time and place of our 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

Islamabad blames India for the latest crisis in ties.

The two nations have fought three wars, two over Kashmir, since independence in 1947 and each now has nuclear capabilities.

Each army has lost two soldiers in the fighting along parts of the 740-kilometre ceasefire line this month. The head of one of the soldiers was severed, New Delhi said, inflaming tempers in the country and prompting the dead soldier's family to start a hunger strike.

"The attack on January 8 was premeditated, a pre-planned activity. Such an operation requires planning, detailed reconnaissance," Gen Singh said.

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.

Gen 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.

"I expect all my commanders at the line of control to be both aggressive and offensive in the face of provocation and fire," he said.

Pakistan has termed the Indian allegations as propaganda and blamed it for violations on the ceasefire line.

The ceasefire in Kashmir has held since it went into effect in November 2003, surviving even the downturn in relationships after the Mumbai attacks in November 2008 by a Pakistan-based militant group.

Analysts said it was unlikely the two armies would escalate the situation further and that Gen Singh's remarks may well have been intended to maintain the morale of his troops as well as to respond to public anger over the mutilation of the bodies.

The family of the slain Indian soldier, Hemraj Singh, has launched a hunger strike demanding retribution and that his severed head be back brought back. The family is not related to the army chief.

"Our demand is not something big. My brother's head should be brought back and the Pakistanis should be taught a lesson," said Jai Singh in their village in northern India.

The flare-up began on Jan 6 when Islamabad accused Indian soldiers of entering its territory and killing a soldier. India said Pakistani soldiers intruded about 600 metres into its territory two days later and killed two Indian soldiers on patrol, the attack the army chief was referring to.

Pakistan said one of its soldiers was killed in further fighting on Thursday.