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Stern words to Pak but stress on peace

New Delhi, Jan. 9: Diplomats and generals of India and Pakistan were in touch today after Tuesday’s killing of two soldiers and traded charges but New Delhi and Islamabad said they did not want ceasefire violations in Jammu and Kashmir to escalate.

Reports from Indian Army sources in the north indicated there was restiveness over the brutal killings of Lance Naiks Sudhakar Singh and Hem Raj of the 13 Rajputana Rifles battalion.

The bodies of the soldiers were flown to their villages in Madhya Pradesh and Uttar Pradesh this afternoon.

India lodged a strong protest with Islamabad and said Pakistani troops had subjected the bodies of the Indian soldiers to “barbaric and inhuman mutilation”. India also warned that the “unacceptable” incident may have an adverse impact on bilateral ties.

Foreign secretary Ranjan Mathai summoned Pakistan’s high commissioner to India, Salman Bashir, and “lodged a strong protest on the actions of the Pakistan army on January 8”. He conveyed India’s “deepest concerns” over Tuesday’s attack.

Official sources denied external affairs minister Salman Khurshid had spoken to his Pakistan counterpart Hina Rabbani Khar or that foreign secretary Mathai had spoken to his Pakistan counterpart Jalil Abbas Jilani.

Privately, there was an acknowledgement in the military that Tuesday’s killings were not one of a kind on the Line of Control. The Indian Army counts 117 ceasefire violations in 2012 (93 on the LoC and 24 across the International Border), 61 in 2011 (50 and 11) and 57 in 2010 (43 and 14). There have been three in nine days this year. The ceasefire was agreed in November 2003.

Khar and Bashir denied their troops had entered Indian territory and killed the soldiers. The two and the Pakistani military also alleged that one of their soldiers, Lance Naik Aslam, was brutalised by Indian troops on January 6 near the Haji Pir Pass, an allegation bluntly denied by India.

Defence minister A.K. Antony continued to call Tuesday’s act provocative.

“That it has happened is a reality. There is clear evidence to it. It is a highly provocative act on the part of the Pakistan army. The way they treated an Indian soldier’s dead body is inhuman. We are in the process of taking it up with the Pakistan government, at the army level and now at the Director General of Military Operations (DGMO),” he said in Calcutta. “Government of India in co-ordination with all stakeholders is closely monitoring all the developments,” he said.

Indian DGMO Lt General Vinod Bhatia and his Pakistan counterpart Lt General Ashfaq Nadeem Ahmed spoke over the telephone hotline shortly after 10 this morning.

“The DGMO lodged a strong protest giving details. It was conveyed that this action was by regular troops (of the Pakistan army) in which two of our soldiers were martyred. A strong protest was also lodged against the mutilation of the body of one of our soldiers. This is a grave violation of the rules of engagement of any civilised, professional army,” an Indian Army spokesperson said.

The army chief cancelled his visit to the NCC Republic Day camp tomorrow, an annual event where he would have been asked questions by the media.

In fresh details of Tuesday’s firefight, an army source said the encounter took place between the Indian fence meant to check infiltration and the Line of Control in Mendhar. The distance between the LoC and the fence is about 2km.

Pakistani troops in the black dungarees of the Special Services Group and possibly of the 29 Baluch regiment surrounded the seven-member Indian patrol about 600 metres inside Indian territory. The two lance naiks who were killed were the scouts for the “area domination patrol” that was moving between two posts in the Mendhar sector in thick fog.

Mendhar is probably the most volatile sector along the LoC. Most Pakistani posts opposite the sector are higher than India’s, giving the Pakistani soldiers a better view of Indian military movements.

A source who visited Poonch and Mendhar recently said there was also unease in the Pakistani military about bunkers and defences that the Indian army was building or reinforcing in its own territory. On at least one occasion recently, Pakistani troops had rigged up loudspeakers and warned Indian troops to stop such work.

Pakistan’s strategic Haji Pir Pass, that connects Uri and Poonch on the Indian side, was captured by the Indian army in the 1965 war but was returned after the Tashkent agreement.

Foreign secretary Mathai reminded high commissioner Bashir that “the experts of both countries had met in New Delhi on December 27, 2012, to discuss conventional CBMs (confidence building measures), wherein maintaining the sanctity of the LOC, one of the most important CBMs between the two countries, was emphasised”, an MEA statement said.