India orders 'aggressive' response to Pak firing

The Indian army's chief of staff ordered an "aggressive" response Monday to any cross-border firing by Pakistan as commanders from both sides met to discuss a recent deadly flare-up in disputed Kashmir.

While foreign ministers of both sides have warned against escalating tensions, General Bikram Singh reiterated the sense of outrage within the Indian army's ranks over the killing of two soldiers on January 8, one of whom was beheaded.

Pakistan denies its troops were to blame for any such incident and says two of its own soldiers were killed in the last eight days along the Line of Control, the de facto border in Kashmir where a ceasefire has been in place since 2003.

"We expect our commanders to be aggressive," said Singh ahead of the talks along the LoC where one of his brigadiers lodged a protest over the decapitation.

"The orders are very clear: when provoked, I expect my unit commanders should fire back."

Singh said the treatment of the Indian soldiers last week was "an unpardonable act" while adding that it should not lead to a breakdown in peace talks.

"We want the Pakistani army to hand over the head of the soldier as soon as possible," he said at a news conference in New Delhi.

"We want to keep the dialogue process on and also explore the best ways to communicate with Pakistan, but the attacks must stop," Singh added.

An army spokesman later confirmed that senior officers from both sides held talks at an undisclosed location along the LoC, lasting a mere 32 minutes.

"Brigadier Suchendra Kumar represented the Indian army team. We have lodged our protest with Pakistan," army spokesman J. Dahiya told AFP.

Singh said the attack which led to the beheading must have been planned well ahead and reiterated the claim that it was the work of the Pakistani army.

"These kind of operations require planning of at least 10-15 days. You have to observe the activities, arrange the logistics, firepower. You have to have a plan and practise that plan. No one would like to leave tell-tale signs," he said.

"The clockwork precision, detailed planning and execution... is indicative of premeditated and pre-planned action of Pakistan."

The family of the decapitated soldier, Lance Naik Hemraj, has gone on a hunger strike as part of a campaign to ensure that his head is returned.

"I want my husband's complete body. He served the country and deserves respect," his wife Dharmvati told the Hindi-language Zee TV news channel.

Kashmir, a Muslim-majority territory, is divided into Indian and Pakistani-administered sectors but is claimed in full by both sides.

It has been the cause of two of three wars between India and Pakistan since independence from Britain in 1947.

After a total break in ties after the 2008 Mumbai attacks, which India blamed on Pakistan-based militants, relations had been slowly improving. Recent talks had focused on opening up trade and offering more lenient visa regimes.

While deploring the "ghastly" January 8 attack, India's Foreign Minister Salman Khurshid has said it must trigger "an escalation" of tensions, while his Pakistani counterpart Hina Rabbani Khar stressed her desire to normalise ties.
 

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