Recent incidents localised, LoC ceasefire stands: Army chief

FP
Army chief Gen Bikram Singh Monday made it clear the ceasefire with Pakistan on the Line of Control (LoC) still holds despite the increase in violations, which he said were incidents "localised" to certain areas where infiltration routes frequently used by terrorists are located.

Singh, however, emphasised that the beheading of an Indian soldier by Pakistani troops was "unpardonable" and in the Army's assessment it was a "stage-managed and pre-planned attack". He described the manner of killing as "gruesome" and against the "very ethos of soldiering".

His comments came ahead of a brigadier-level flag-meeting of the two armies at which the two sides traded charges and accused each other of violating the ceasefire. The meeting at Chakan Da Bagh had been mooted by India to reduce tensions that flared after the January 8 killing of the two Indian soldiers.

Asked whether the ceasefire, the most important India-Pakistan confidence building measure, still held considering there was one violation every three days on an average last year, Singh said: "The ceasefire has been in place since 2003. There have been aberrations taking place at the local level. It was once in every six days in 2011 and was once in three days in 2012. It is not that the entire LoC is activated. It is essentially at places that have traditionally been infiltration routes — the Uri and Mendhar sectors. These are due to local dynamics. The ceasefire is largely holding out with aberrations at local levels."

Asked why the Pakistani army chose to up the ante by beheading an Indian soldier, the general said it may be a reflection of the frustration over not being able to push militants into India through the route.

At the same, Singh underlined that India "reserves its right to retaliate at the time and place of its choice". Choosing his words carefully, he added: "I expect all my commanders to be aggressive and offensive to any provocation. We shall not be passive to fire but the response will always be measured and to effect. We will maintain moral ascendancy."

The Army chief said that the 13 Rajputana Rifles targeted by the cross-border raid had foiled an infiltration bid on Saturday night in which several people were observed while trying to cross over. He also said the Army believes three people who were trying to cross over died in the firing by the Indian Army and firing continues in the area as Pakistani troops are trying to retrieve the bodies.

Singh, however, distanced himself from the statement of Air Chief Marshal N A K Browne who said Saturday that India would look at other options if the violations continued. "I suppose what he perhaps meant was in the domain of diplomatic and economic options. As far as military options are concerned, it is an operation which will be dealt with by the Army at the tactical level," Singh said.

The general said the Army's assessment is that the beheading of the soldier and subsequent developments was pre-planned by Pakistan. Terming efforts to link the beheading with the killing of a Pakistani soldier two days earlier as a conspiracy, Singh said any retaliation by Pakistan would take at least 7-10 days of planning. In this case, however, the purported "retaliation" took place after just two days.

Top government sources said the latest tensions could also be linked to the fact that Kashmir has been at its most peaceful state in years. Violence has dropped drastically in the Valley with a record low of only 72 militants being killed in 2012 against 100 in 2011 and 232 in 2010. This clearly indicated infiltration has hit a big low, the sources said. Besides, security forces in the state have also managed to keep their own casualties minimal, with only 15 personnel killed in 2012 against 33 in 2011 and 69 in 2010.

While the Army chief was speaking at his annual media interaction on the eve of Army Day, his remarks came hours before local commanders of India and Pakistan held their first meeting after the recent violence on the LoC. At the meeting, India demanded that the decapitated head of Lance Naik Hemraj be returned. Pakistan, on the other hand, protested against the alleged killing of its soldiers by the Indian Army.

"It was conveyed in no uncertain terms that repetition of such acts will not be tolerated and the Indian Army reserves the right to retaliate at the place and time of our own choosing in case they recur," an Indian Army spokesperson said.

However, the Pakistani side denied any involvement in the matter and accused India of violating the ceasefire agreement, prompting the Army to say that the response was on "expected lines". "The Pakistani delegation leader denied their involvement in the incident, denying any ceasefire violations by their troops and reiterated the false and fabricated allegations that our troops crossed over the Line of Control and killed one Pakistani soldier and injured another," the spokesperson said.

The half-an-hour meeting ended with both sides asking each other to exercise restraint and maintain the 2003 ceasefire pact.

"We have to make the Pakistan Army accountable. There are diplomatic, political ways of doing it. We want the head back but what do you do when a country and its army are in denial mode. I think we should pressurise them nationally and internationally," Singh said.

Significantly, throughout his media interaction, Singh reaffirmed several times that the incident had taken place at a tactical level and would be dealt in a similar manner. Without specifying what action would be taken, he also underlined that the Army would not cross the LoC while fashioning its response.

"The reply would be given but the LoC would not be crossed. We have been firing back. The orders are very clear to local commanders that when fired at, they have to retaliate. We have adequate resources, wisdom and competent field commanders who would be able to deal with the situation," asserted Singh.

The Army chief also admitted that this was not the first time in recent years that Pakistani troops had beheaded an Indian soldier on the LoC. Singh said a similar incident had taken place in 2011 when two soldiers of the 20 Kumaon regiment had been beheaded. The army had consistently denied the incident in the past.

- With ENS, Jammu

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