‘Beheading of a soldier is gruesome and most unpardonable’

Terming as “most unpardonable’’ the beheading of an Indian Army soldier on the Line of Control (LoC) in Poonch area of Jammu and Kashmir by Pakistani Army regulars on January 8, Army Chief General Bikram Singh on Monday warned that India’s military will retaliate aggressively if provoked any further.

In a measured but tough response to Pakistani Army killing two Indian soldiers on January 8, the Army Chief said the Pakistani troops had “pre-planned and pre-meditated’’ the action and asserted that India reserves the right to retaliate at a “time and place of its choice.’’

Addressing the annual press conference here on the eve of the 65th Army Day, General Singh said that he expected his commander to be aggressive and offensive. “I do not want my commanders to be timid. Our response to Pakistani firing at its posts in LoC in Jammu and Kashmir is measured and perfect.”

The Army chief said the ceasefire on the LoC, in place since November 26, 2003, has been holding barring “some aberrations’’ in some sectors where the Pakistani side indulged in violations. He pointed out that it was a tactical level operation which was localised on two sectors in LoC, a 740-km long zig-zag line passing through mountainous region of Jammu and Kashmir.

“We will uphold the ceasefire as long as adversary upholds it but we will not be passive when provoked or fired at,’’ he added. Last year there had been 117 ceasefire violations from Pakistani side. However, he said that entire LoC was not “activated’’ but only some sectors where violations, skirmishes and infiltration took place.

“Beheading of a soldier is gruesome, unacceptable and most unpardonable,’’ General Singh said while referring to the January 8 incident in Mendhar sector of Poonch area in Jammu region where an Indian Army patrol party was ambushed by Pakistani troops who had crossed over to the Indian territory. He said the Pakistani act “defies all logic’’ and was “against all ethics of soldiering.’’

Replying to a question, he said the attack was carried out by Pakistani Army regulars but agreed with the possibility of Lashkar-e-Taiba (LeT) terrorists being involved in it. “Pakistan uses terrorists for operations. We cannot rule out the possibility. We have known them to use that,’’ he added.

He said the Army had inputs that Pakistan’s elite commandos, the Special Service Group (SSG), was also involved in the cross border raid in which Lance Naik Hemraj was beheaded and the body of Lance Naik Sudhakar Singh was mutilated. He said that 91 Army personnel of all ranks had made supreme sacrifice of laying down their lives over the past one year while defending the nation in the line of their duty.

Asked if he would visit the family of Lance Naik Hemraj, the Army Chief replied in affirmative, saying as head of the family he would go to express his sympathies and offer condolences.

Denying Pakistani allegations that the tension along the LoC was triggered by Indian Army’s aggression on January 6, General Singh said that Pakistan first tried to spread “lies’’ and then `”tried to justify the beheading.’’

General Singh denied that any concrete structure was built by the Indian Army in the area near Charonda village where Pakistani forces dominated with small arms and mortar fire.

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