New Delhi: India on Wednesday strongly protested the killing of two of its soldiers along the line of control (LoC) in Jammu and Kashmir and warned that such acts could derail the peace talks with Pakistan.
Pakistani envoy Salman Bashir was summoned by the government and was “spoken to in very strong terms” and India’s “deepest concern and protest” were put across, foreign minister Salman Khurshid told reporters.
Two Indian soldiers patrolling the LoC were killed on Tuesday in a gunbattle with Pakistani troops about half a kilometre inside Indian territory, the Indian army said. One of them was beheaded, an army spokesman said.
The manner in which the soldiers’ bodies were treated is unacceptable, Khurshid said. The act was “inhuman”, defence minister A.K. Antony said, according to a report by the Press Trust of India.
“We would expect an appropriate response from the other side,” Khurshid said. “Our anxiety has been conveyed very clearly.”
The LoC is the de facto border in Jammu and Kashmir between India and Pakistan, who have already fought three wars over it.
India accuses Pakistan of sheltering, training and arming insurgent groups fighting Indian troops in Kashmir.
The India-Pakistan border is heavily guarded and patrolled, with shelling a routine feature, causing deaths on both sides. But a ceasefire declared in November 2003 has been mostly respected by the South Asian neighbours and Tuesday’s incident is being seen as one of the major violation.
Khurshid said that if steps are not taken to immediately contain the incident, it “would have an adverse impact on what we have been trying to do for such a long time”, he said, a reference to efforts made by both nations to normalize ties.
A peace dialogue launched in 2004 has resulted in lowering of tensions and lessening of violence in Kashmir. The process was interrupted by the 2008 Mumbai attacks but talks resumed in February 2011 and steps to improve trade and easier visa regimes have been a feature of recent talks.
Khurshid said the attack seemed designed to “derail” the fragile peace process. “Whatever has happened should not be escalated. We cannot and must not allow for an escalation of a very unwholesome event that has taken place,” the foreign minister said.
He ruled out any “dramatic review” of ties and the road map drawn up for ties with Pakistan, stating that India was careful about ensuring that it does not move “too soon” and “too far” with Pakistan.
Meanwhile, a military official in Islamabad denied Pakistani troops had been involved in any attack. The Pakistani side conveyed this during a phone conversation between the directors general of military operations of the two nations. A Pakistani military official, who did not want to be named, said Pakistani major general Ashfaq Nadeem talked to his Indian counterpart, lieutenant general Vinod Bhatia, through a hotline and rejected the Indian army’s “allegations of cross-LoC firing by Pakistani troops and killing any Indian soldier”.
“The Indian authorities were informed that Pakistan has carried out ground verification and checked and found nothing of this sort happened as is being alleged by India,” the military official said. “It is mere propaganda by the Indian army.”
Pakistan has said one of its soldiers was killed when Indian troops attacked a Pakistani post over the weekend and Tuesday’s attack on Indian soldiers is seen as an apparent retaliation.
The ruling Congress party and main opposition Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) also reacted sharply to the killing of the Indian soldiers.
BJP leader Arun Jaitley asked the government to “clearly define the dos and don’ts” in relations with the neighbouring nation.
“Pakistan must respect rules of engagement and the ceasefire agreement. How can we tolerate mutilation of our braves. Redlines must be drawn,” information and broadcasting minister Manish Tewari said in an entry on Twitter.
“Our assessment suggests tensions will not escalate further and the issue will be over soon,” a government official said, requesting anonymity.
Sahil Makkar and PTI contributed to this story.