NEW DELHI: An Indian soldier was beheaded and another killed by Pakistani troops after they crossed over into Indian territory in the Mendhar sector of Jammu & Kashmir on Tuesday, in a grim reminder of the brutality perpetrated during the 1999 Kargil conflict which can make peace making even more difficult.
The “border action team” of the Pakistani Army took advantage of the thick fog in the thickly-forested mountainous region to sneak 500 to 600 metres across the Line of Control (loC) before they were driven back after a fierce gun-battle and even close-quarter combat with Indian troops that went on for over 30 minutes shortly before noon on Tuesday.
The incursion and ceasefire violation seemed to be a diversionary manoeuvre to push infiltrators into J&K, as has been the earlier practice of Pakistani Army. However, it met with adequate fire-power from the Indian troops who, tipped off by the Intelligence Bureau, were fully alert to thwart any nefarious design.
After the gun battle, the bodies of Lance-Naiks Hemraj and Sudhakar Singh, part of an “area domination patrol” of the 13 Rajputana Rifles, were found. One of them was badly “mutilated”. Although the Army did not give more details of the barbarism, sources said the retreating Pakistani soldiers had chopped off the “head” of one of the Indian soldiers and taken it back with them.
An outraged Indian Army dubbed the crime “yet another grave provocation” by the Pakistan Army, and said that it would be “taken up sternly through official channels”. Given the gravity of the situation, PM Manmohan Singh, who was in Kochi in the afternoon, was briefed over the phone.
“We condemn the provocative action. The government will take up the incident with the Pakistan government. We expect Islamabad to honour the ceasefire agreement (which came into force in November 2003) strictly,” said the defence ministry.
Predictably, the Pakistan military denied its troops had crossed over into India or indulged in a ceasefire violation on Tuesday. “It looks like Indian propaganda to divert world attention from the raid conducted by Indian troops on one of our posts on Sunday, in which one of our soldiers was killed,” it said.
But the decapitation of the Indian soldier on Tuesday evoked memories of the barbaric way in which during the 1999 Kargil conflict Captain Saurabh Kalia was tortured by his Pakistani captors who later handed over his badly mutilated body to India. Kalia’s father is still fighting to get Pakistan to punish the soldiers who were responsible for his son’s brutal torture.
The defeat in Kargil did not chasten the Pakistani security establishment into mending its ways and stop violating the Geneva Convention which lays down how captured soldiers should be treated. In February, 2000, infamous Pakistani terrorist and al-Qaida member Ilyas Kashmiri had led a raid on the Indian Army’s “Ashok Listening Post” in the Nowshera sector to kill seven Indian soldiers.
Even then, Kashmiri had taken back to Pakistan the head of a 24-year-old Indian jawan, Bhausaheb Maruti Talekar of the 17 Maratha Light Infantry, as a trophy to brandish. He is believed to have been honoured by General Pervez Musharraf himself at a ceremony later.
On Tuesday, the defence ministry said the director-general of military operations (DGMO), Lt-General Vinod Bhatia, had already taken up the issue “directly” with his Pakistani counterpart. With the PM landing back in New Delhi later on Tuesday, the ministry of external affairs is likely to summon a top Pakistani official on Wednesday to lodge a strong protest over the matter.
Sources said Army chief General Bikram Singh also briefed national security advisor Shivshankar Menon on the “significant escalation” in ceasefire violations by the Pakistan Army in recent days. “Pakistan Army is regularly giving covering fire to help terrorists infiltrate into J&K, especially in the Rajouri, Uri and Keran sectors. If there were 61 such violations in 2011, as many as 120 have been recorded in the last one year,” said an official.
India has already denied Pakistan’s earlier allegation on Sunday, holding that it was actually Pakistani soldiers who opened “unprovoked heavy machinegun and mortar fire on Indian post in the Uri sector”. Indian troops had just responded to it “in a calibrated manner”. The external affairs ministry also asked Pakistan to ensure that the “sanctity of the LoC is maintained”.
Hindu soldiers beheaded, body of one mutilated by Jihadi Pak troops…