New Delhi, Jan 9: India Wednesday lodged a “strong protest” with Pakistan after Pakistani troops shot dead and beheaded two of its soldiers in Jammu and Kashmir in a gory replay of the 1999 Kargil killings.
The Indian Army said the head of one of the soldiers, Lance Naik Sudhakar Singh, was taken away by the intruders dressed in black who officials said could be from the 29 Baloch Regiment.
The other dead soldier was identified as Lance Naik Hemraj.
In a strongly worded statement, India said the two “were killed … and their bodies subjected to barbaric and inhuman mutilation”.
New Delhi asked Islamabad to immediately probe the killings, which it said violated “all norms of international conduct”.
It was the worst violation of the ceasefire that has mostly held since 2003 on the Line of Control (LoC) that divides Jammu and Kashmir between India and Pakistan.
Indian leaders made no efforts to hide their disgust.
Defence Minister A.K. Antony called the Tuesday killings in the border district of Poonch “highly provocative. The way they have treated the body of the Indian soldiers, it is inhuman”.
External Affairs Minister Salman Khurshid said the mutilation of the soldiers was “an extremely sensitive matter”.
Khurshid spoke after Foreign Secretary Ranjan Mathai summoned Pakistani High Commissioner Salman Bashir and lodged a strong protest. Bashir was “spoken to in very strong terms”, Khurshid said.
The matter was also taken up by the Director General of Military Operations, Lt Gen Vinod Bhatia, with his Pakistani counterpart, Maj Gen Ashfaq Nadeem. They spoke on their hotline.
The Tuesday killings appeared to be a repeat of the killings and torture of Indian soldiers by the Pakistani military during the Kargil conflict in Kashmir almost 14 years ago.
Pakistan denied its involvement in the latest killings but India refused to buy the argument.
“Our troops did not carry out attack. Indians are making counter claims to cover their attack on a Pakistani post (Jan 6),” a Pakistani official said in Islamabad.
The Congress party warned Pakistan not to test India’s patience.
“The way they have beheaded our soldiers is brutal and barbaric,” its spokesman Rashid Alvi said. “We want good relationship with our neighbour, but whether Pakistan wants peaceful relationship is doubtful.”
Indian officials said the Pakistani soldiers sneaked some 600 meters into a forested part of Sona Gali under the cover of a thick fog and killed the two soldiers who were leading an Indian patrol.
Brigadier J.K. Tiwari, deputy general officer commanding of the 25 Division headquartered in Rajouri, about 180 km from Jammu, explained how the killings took place.
Speaking after a guard of honour for the dead men, he said the two soldiers were ambushed amid a thick fog that greatly reduced visibility in the area.
He said the patrol spotted some movement ahead, sparking a gun battle that lasted about 25 minutes.
When the patrol reached the two scouts, they found them beheaded.
The Bharatiya Janata Party asked the government to “clearly define the red lines” for Pakistan.
New Delhi “will have to be very firm, very cautious and very clear on how to deal with Pakistan”, its leader Arun Jaitley said. “The government must be very firm while dealing with Pakistan.”
But in significant comments, Khurshid emphasized that “it is very important that we make sure that such incidents should not be escalated”.
Otherwise, he warned, it “will have an adverse impact on what we have been trying to do for such a long time”.
Even Jaitley said the brutal killings were obviously “intended to disturb the environment” of improved relations between the two countries.
The LoC was calm Wednesday after separate overnight clashes between Indian and Pakistan troops.
After the Tuesday killings, Pakistani troops shelled an Indian post in Krishnaghati sector also in Poonch district, triggering counter firing by the Indian Army.