NEW, DELHI – India was to decide its response later Wednesday after accusing Pakistan of killing two of its soldiers and mutilating one of the bodies along the tense border between the nuclear-armed rivals.
Indian Defense Ministry spokesman Lt. Col. Rajesh Kalia said in a statement that the alleged incident was “a significant escalation” of ceasefire violations by Pakistan and would be addressed “sternly” through official channels.
A senior Indian Army official said the body of one soldier killed in a firefight after the incursion had been badly mutilated, and that the condition of the other remained unconfirmed. Some reports, citing military officials, said the head was missing from at least one of the bodies.
“This is not something of a very slight nature that you can bypass or ignore easily,” Indian Foreign Minister Salman Khurshid told the Indian news channel NDTV 24X7 on Tuesday. “It causes a tremendous amount of hurt to us. This is not the way that civilized people deal with each other, even if they have serious differences.”
In a first step, the Foreign Ministry on Wednesday summoned Pakistani High Commissioner to India Salman Bashir to lodge a formal complaint about the clash.
A spokesman for the Pakistani Army denied any of its soldiers had been involved in an unprovoked shooting, The Associated Press reported, adding Pakistan’s military had said in a statement that the accusation “looks like Indian propaganda” to divert attention from a cross-border exchange over the weekend in which a Pakistani soldier was killed.
The two Indian soldiers died after a firefight broke out around noon as a patrol moving in foggy conditions discovered Pakistani troops about 500 meters inside India’s territory, an Indian Army spokesman said.
A ceasefire has been in place since 2003 along the Line of Control that divides the two countries, although it is periodically violated by both sides.
“There was a firefight with Pakistani troops. We lost two soldiers and one of them has been badly mutilated,” Indian Army spokesman Rajesh Kalia said from the mountainous Himalayan region, confirming the identities of the deceased as Sgts. Hemraj Singh and Sudhakar Singh.
“The intruders were regular (Pakistani) soldiers and they were 400-500 meters inside our territory,” he said of the clash in the Mendhar sector, about 175 km west of the city of Jammu.
Indian reports and a military source indicated that the mutilated soldier may have been decapitated.
Speaking on the NDTV news channel late Tuesday, Khurshid slammed the killings as “inhuman.”
“We need to do something about this and we will, but it has to be done after careful consideration of all the details in consultation with the Defense Ministry,” he said. “What will be done, in which manner, is something we will take a call on tomorrow (Wednesday). “It is absolutely unacceptable, ghastly, and really, really terrible and extremely shortsighted by their part.”
India’s response, he promised, would be “proportionate.”
“This seems like a clear attempt to derail the dialogue,” Khurshid added. “We have to find ways in which the dialogue is not sabotaged or destroyed.”
Relations between the neighbors had been slowly improving over the last few years following a rupture in their slow-moving peace process after the 2008 Mumbai attacks, which were blamed by India on Pakistan-based militants.
The Pakistani Army alleges Indian troops crossed the Line of Control on Sunday and stormed a military post in an attack that left one Pakistani soldier dead and another injured. It lodged a formal protest with India Monday.
India has denied crossing the line, but a Foreign Ministry spokesman said its troops had undertaken “controlled retaliation” Sunday after “unprovoked firing” from Pakistani forces had damaged a civilian home in the area.
The deaths deal a serious blow to efforts to ease tensions in South Asia and improve diplomatic relations between the two rivals. Steps such as opening up trade and offering more lenient visa regimes have been a feature of recent high-level talks.
Muslim-majority Kashmir is a Himalayan region that India and Pakistan both claim in full but rule in part. It was the cause of two of the three wars fought between the neighbors since independence from Britain in 1947.
The last major escalation in the area occurred in 1999, when fighting claimed the lives of more than 1,000 combatants on both sides after India accused Pakistani militants and troops of occupying strategic Indian peaks.
“Violation of the ceasefire is bad enough, to resort to mutilating soldiers is unacceptable in any civilized society,” Omar Abdullah, the chief minister of the Indian section of Kashmir, said in a tweet. “Clearly someone up the chain of command wants to do everything to derail any dialogue between the two countries.”