NEW DELHI: India weighed its response Wednesday to the killing of two soldiers and the reported beheading of one of them in a “ghastly” attack by Pakistani troops that has escalated tensions in South Asia.
Indian authorities said the body of one of the troops killed in Tuesday’s incident in the disputed Kashmir region was “mutilated” while newspapers and a military source indicated that he had been decapitated.
Fragile peace process
Foreign Minister Salman Khurshid said the attack, which followed a deadly exchange along the border at the weekend in which a Pakistani soldier was killed, was designed to wreck an already fragile peace process.
Promising that India’s response would be “proportionate”, Khurshid said that senior government and military officials would decide on a course of action on Wednesday.
“What will be done, in which manner, is something we will take a call on tomorrow,” Khurshid told the NDTV news channel late Tuesday.
“It is absolutely unacceptable, ghastly, and really, really terrible and extremely short-sighted by their part,” he added.
Treatment of slain troops 'inhuman'
The Pakistani army's treatment of two Indian soldiers who were killed along the border in Kashmir was "inhuman", Indian Defence Minister A.K. Antony said on Wednesday."Pakistan army's action is highly provocative. The way they treated the dead body of the soldiers, Indian soldiers, is inhuman," he said after reports and military sources said one of the troops had been beheaded on Tuesday.
"We will convey our protest to the Pakistan government and our DGMO (director general of military operations) will talk to his counterpart in Pakistan. They are closely monitoring the situation," he told reporters.
Newspaper headlines further stoked the tensions, with the Mail Today denouncing “Pak Army Butchers” on its front page while the Hindustan Times reported that the second soldier had his throat slit.
India’s Defence Minister A.K. Antony was scheduled to address a meeting in the eastern city of Kolkata later Wednesday, while Khurshid was due to speak to the media in New Delhi in the early afternoon.
The Pakistani military has rejected what it called Indian “propaganda” that it said was aimed at diverting attention after the cross-border exchange at the weekend in which Indian soldiers were accused of violating Pakistan’s territory.
The two Indian soldiers died after a firefight erupted around noon on Tuesday as a patrol moving in foggy conditions discovered Pakistani troops about 500 metres (yards) inside Indian territory, an army spokesman said.
“We lost two soldiers and one of them has been badly mutilated,” spokesman Rajesh Kalia added, declining to give more details.
The clash took place in Mendhar sector, 173 kilometres (107 miles) west of the city of Jammu, the winter capital of the state.
Army sources said there had been further exchanges on Tuesday night which caused no damage and the border was calm on Wednesday morning.
“The Line of Control is steady and stable,” Brigadier G. S. Sangha, one of the army’s most senior officers in Kashmir, told AFP.
A ceasefire has been in place along the Line of Control in Kashmir that has divided the countries since 2003, but it is periodically violated by both sides.
A post-mortem was due to take place later Wednesday, which will determine the sensitive issue of whether one of soldiers was decapitated.
Relations between the nuclear-armed neighbours had been slowly improving over the past few years following a rupture after the 2008 attacks on Mumbai, which were blamed by India on Pakistan-based militants.
In Islamabad, a Pakistan military spokesman denied what he called an “Indian allegation of unprovoked firing”, calling the Indian account “propaganda to divert the attention of the world from Sunday’s raid on a Pakistani post”.
Pakistan’s army says 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 on Monday.
India denied crossing the line, but a foreign ministry spokesman said Indian troops had undertaken “controlled retaliation” on Sunday after “unprovoked firing” that damaged a civilian home.
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 three wars between the neighbours since independence from Britain in 1947.