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Pak action unacceptable, we can retaliate: Army chief

Last updated on: January 14, 2013 20:09 IST

Image: Army chief General Bikram Singh

Angry at the beheading of an Indian soldier on the Line of Control, Army Chief General Bikram Singh on Monday issued a clear warning to Pakistan, saying India reserves the right to retaliate at the time and place of its choosing.

Talking tough over the January 8 incident in Mendhar area of Jammu and Kashmir, he said the beheading was unacceptable and most unpardonable and Indian troops would respond immediately, aggressively and offensively if provoked.

Slamming Pakistan for planting lies to justify the "pre-meditated and pre-planned" cross-LoC attack, he said Pakistan Army's commando unit Special Services Group had carried out the assault.

He did not rule out the possibility of Lashker-e-Tayiba terrorists providing help to the Pakistan Army in the assault in which two Indian soldiers were killed and one of them beheaded.

"It (the beheading of Lance Naik Hemraj) is unacceptable and unpardonable. It is barbaric. It defies all logic. It is against the very rules of engagement. It is against the ethics of soldiering. We are annoyed," the army chief said while addressing a press conference on the eve of Army Day.

He revealed that the Pakistani Army had beheaded two Indian soldiers earlier also. "Yes, this has happened. We cannot conceal this fact," he said when asked whether two jawans of Kumaon regiment, who had been killed by the Pakistani Army over a year back, had been beheaded.

Asserting that the Pakistan Army "needs to be accountable", he said, "We reserve the right to retaliate at the time and place of our choosing."

Replying to a volley of questions during the nearly two-hour interaction, General Singh said he expected the Indian commanders "to be aggressive and offensive in the face of provocation. I don't expect my commanders to be timid. We shall not be passive when fired at. Therefore, when fired at, when provoked, we shall respond."

He said that there was prima facie some tactical error on the part of the Indian Army unit and corrective measures will be taken.

"At the strategic arena, what is of consequence and has hurt us, is the beheading of our soldiers. That is something which we will not tolerate and we will give a strong message. This has been conveyed by the government," General Singh said.

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'We will have to pressurise them'

Image: Two coffins containing the bodies of Indian Army soldiers are placed in a military helicopter at a garrison in Rajouri district
Photographs: Reuters

At the same time, he discounted the possibility of the skirmish leading to full-fledged war and was dismissive of Pakistan's nuclear blackmail, saying it had no relation to the local conflict.

"These are localised operations and would be dealt with as per our Standard Operating Procedures," the army chief said.

To questions about retrieving Hemraj's head from Pakistan, he said the issue will be taken up strongly at the diplomatic level as also the military level, including the Brigadier-level Flag meeting on Monday.

"Let us see if the Pakistan Army heeds to our protests and complies with it. We will have to pressurise them to give the head back," he said, while noting that India never indulges in such inhuman behaviour.

On the repeated violations of the border ceasefire that has been in place since November 2003, he put the onus on Pakistan for its maintenance.

"We will uphold the ceasefire as long as the adversary (Pakistan) does," he said, while asserting that Indian troops had never violated the agreement as claimed by Pakistan.

"The Pakistan Army needs to be accountable. It should respect civil control, which it has not been doing," he said.

Rejecting Pakistan's contention that its action was in retaliation to an attack by the Indian Army on January 6, General Singh said, "They (Pakistan) have planted lies to justify what they have done."

Maintaining that the Pakistani Army was "poised for this operation" much in advance, he said such an attack required preparation of at least 15 days, including a reconnaissance, and could not be launched in just two days.

The army chief lauded Indian commanders and troops deployed on the LoC, saying their response to Pakistan Army's firing has been "measured and perfect".  

At the same time, he said no restrictions have been imposed on the Indian Army on the LoC.

"Commanders must understand that the army hierarchy is standing behind them," he said.

He said while the issue is being taken up with Pakistan at government and military levels, directions have been given to army commanders to respond immediately if provoked.

General Singh said the ceasefire, in place since November 2003, has been upheld except for some aberrations, for which he squarely blamed Pakistan.

"All ceasefire violations have been by them. It is very rare that we have fired and that is also when we have been provoked in terms of certain activity," he said.

The army chief said local formation commanders along the LoC have been given freedom to respond as per the ground realities there in case of ceasefire violations.

"The reply would be given but the LoC would not be crossed. We have been firing back. The orders are very clear to local commanders that when fired at, they have to retaliate," he said.

Asked about Air Chief Marshal NAK Browne's statement that India may have to look at other options if Pakistan continues ceasefire violations, General Singh said, "You may seek clarifications from him regarding these options. I suppose what he perhaps meant was in the domain of diplomatic and economic options. As far as military options are concerned, it is an operation which will be dealt with by the army at the tactical level. We have adequate resources, wisdom and competent field commanders who would be able to deal with the situation."

The army chief said he would also visit the home of Lance Naik Hemraj, whose family has been on a fast for the last six days, demanding that his head be brought back from Pakistan.

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'They push in infiltrators'

"We have to make the Pakistan Army accountable. There are diplomatic, political ways of doing it. As far as the army is concerned, increasing force and violence is a national decision. We want the head back but what do you when a country and its army are in the denial mode," he said.

"I think we should pressurise them nationally and internationally as part of our national element so that they are made accountable and they are made to return the head of our soldier which they have taken away," he said.

The issue, he said, "will be taken up at the government level and this has to be done through diplomatic channels".

"It will also be conveyed to the Director-General of Military Operations. It is also being conveyed today in no uncertain terms. Let us see if the Pakistan Army heeds to our request and complies," he said.

Hemraj's wife and mother have refused to end their six-day-old fast, demanding that the army chief visit their house and assure them that his severed head will be brought back from Pakistan.

Asked about the demand by his family, the army chief said, "I will go there after the Army Day is over (on Tuesday). There is no problem in it. I did not know about it (the demand by his family)."

He said he owed this to the 91 other officers, Junior Commissioned Officers and other ranks, who have sacrificed their lives in various operations across the country.

Asserting that Pakistani action was a tactical one, General Singh said, "War fighting starts off from a duel, then it goes to engagement, then you go to battle and from there to campaign and then to war. This is the hierarchy in which you go and this action lies at the bottom of the entire use of force."

When pointed out that there was a ceasefire violation every third day on the LoC, he said majority of this was in the Krishna Ghati and Uri sector, and the ceasefire violation has been observed along major portions of the boundary.

"As far as upping the ante is concerned, I do not think this will happen. This is happening in the segmented area. They would continue to do so with the aim of pushing in terrorists and if the game plan is bigger, we would be monitoring it. Prima facie it appears an action at local level," he said.

Asked about the motive behind Pakistani action in Mendhar, he said, "We are analysing this. Options will come out depending on how the Pakistan Army functions in the future."

General Singh said such attempts are made when the Pakistani troops get frustrated while sending infiltrators across the LoC.

He said the Pakistan Army's wish to reactivate the LoC or the court cases faced by the director general of the Inter Services Intelligence could be possible reasons behind the action.

"Last year, there were 112 infiltration attempts compared to 52 in 2011. They take advantage of these actions and push in infiltrators. This is also done to distract is. We are working this. Our surveillance is being enhanced and our plans are being expanded," he said.

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