India and Pakistan traded accusations yesterday after Delhi claimed two of its soldiers had been killed and their bodies mutilated by Pakistani troops in the disputed region of Kashmir. It said one of the soldiers had been decapitated. Pakistan rejected the claims.
In what has been described as the most serious incident along the so-called Line of Control (LoC) for ten years, Indian army officials claimed a raiding party of Pakistani troops entered Indian territory and attacked a patrol. The incident on the de facto border followed the shooting of a Pakistani soldier by an Indian soldier, two days earlier
Col Jagdeep Dahiya, a spokesman for the Indian armed forces, said the raiding party was “significantly large” and had been made up of regular Pakistani troops that crossed over in the Mendhar region. He said one of the bodies of the two Indian soldiers killed had been beheaded. “There were also marks on the other body,” he said.
India has called on Pakistan to immediately investigate the incident, which it said were in contravention of international conduct, and summoned Pakistan’s most senior diplomat in Delhi, High Commissioner Salman Bashir. In a statement, India’s foreign ministry said the bodies of the two soldiers were “subjected to barbaric and inhuman mutilation”.
At a press conference yesterday, India’s foreign ministry, Salman Kurshid, sought not to pour further fuel on an already tense situation. “I think it is important in the long term that what has happened should not be escalated,” he said, according to Reuters. “We cannot and must not allow the escalation of any unwholesome event like this.”
Pakistan has dismissed the allegations as “baseless and unfounded” and said it is prepared for the UN to investigate what happened.
The country’s foreign minister, Hina Rabbani Khar, appeared on Indian television to add her own denial, telling the CNN-IBN network: “Let me just say that we are a bit appalled at some statements that are coming in from India because the government of Pakistan has absolutely rejected that any such incident took place. It is not Pakistan’s policy to not observe ceasefire on LoC.”
Indian and Pakistan have a notoriously vexed relationship since Partition in 1947 and have gone to war on three occasions. The most recent conflict in Kashmir was the Kargil war of 1999 when Pakistan-backed militants occupied several mountains. Hundreds of Indian troops were killed in fighting to retake the territory.
Among the most notorious incidents from the fighting, which narrowly fell short of turning into a full-scale clash between the two nuclear-armed neighbours, was the capture and killing of Indian officer Saurabh Kalia and five men who were held, tortured and killed before their bodies were later handed back to the Indian authorities at the conclusion of the conflict.
A ceasefire was signed in 2003 and though there have been regular skirmishes and firing along the 450-mile LoC, relations improved until the 2008 Mumbai attacks, in which more than 165 people were killed by 10 Pakistani militants who seized control of parts of India’s financial capital for several days.
More recently, there has been a definite warming, with new visa regulations being announced last month to make cross-border travel easier and to boost trade between the nations.
Analysts said they did not think the incident would escalate, despite the heated rhetoric. Vikram Sood, a former head of India’s foreign intelligence service, said he could not understand why the Pakistani troops had mutilated the bodies of the soldiers.
“That is the bizarre thing,” he said. “I think this will lead to a comma, or a delay, before the next round of talks but I don’t think the Indian army is going to march across the border.”
Talat Masood, a retired Pakistani general, said he believed if an Indian soldier was beheaded it must have been done by Pakistani militants rather than Pakistani troops. “It makes no sense. Pakistan at the moment is not interested in creating problems on its eastern border. It knows the real threat is internal,” he said. “I think something must have happened, but I think it must have been militants, perhaps wearing army uniform. No Pakistan soldier would cut off the head of another solider.”