SRINAGAR/NEW DELHI: A day after an Indian army officer and three other soldiers were killed near the Line of Control in Rajouri, the security establishment in New Delhi was taking stock of possible responses even as firing intensified but was limited to small arms. The condition of a fifth Indian soldier was stated to be ‘critical’.
“Our action will speak for itself,” the vice chief of army staff, Lt General Sarath Chand, said on the sidelines of a seminar here on Monday morning. He explained that the soldiers were killed when a 120 mm mortar exploded at the mouth of their bunker after Pakistani troops opened fire around 3.30 pm on Sunday afternoon. On Sunday, an army statement said that Pakistani forces had used missiles during the ceasefire violation without specifying the nature of the weapon. It was believed to have been an anti-tank guided missile used in a bunker-busting role.
The Director Generals of Military Operations (DGMOs) of India and Pakistan are expected to talk over a telephone hotline on Tuesday. It was not immediately clear if this was a special request from either side. They are in any case scheduled to talk every Tuesday.
But political pressure was mounting on the Centre since the Modi administration repeatedly warned Pakistan of strong reprisals from India if troops were attacked. “Why are our brave soldiers dying Mr. PM? Why are you not imposing a cost on Pakistan? What happened to all the promises that you made to the nation? Was it just hot air & people took you on face value? Why Why & Why do our braves continue to die on your watch??,” (sic) Congress spokesperson Manish Tiwari tweeted.
The statistics of casualties on the Line of Control over the last three years, and especially in the first 35 days this year, show an alarming trend. Since January 1, there have been 240 instances of ceasefire violations, that is nearly seven per day.
Last month, Army chief General Bipin Rawat claimed publicly that India was violating the 2003 ceasefire because Pakistani forces were giving covering fire to infiltrating militants. He had also said that Pakistan had requested a return to the pre-2003 situation on the LoC. He said India could consider it if the level of infiltration fell.
According to an assessment by the Indian Army, 138 Pakistani troopers were killed in Indian firing. For all practical purposes, the ceasefire that was agreed after Operation Parakram in 2001-2002 is in tatters. But the firing has so far been limited to indirect weapons (like mortars) and small arms (like assault rifles).
Both sides have gun emplacements for heavy artillery on either side of the LoC. Firing heavy artillery will mean targeting a larger area of destruction, raising the possibility of casualties to non-combatants.
The fact that the Indian administration has ordered schools near the LoC to be shut means that it is anticipating an intensification in the violence.
In Srinagar on Monday, the Mehbooba government in Jammu and Kashmir recalled former Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee’s call for dialogue and reconciliation to restart a peace process.
Minister for Revenue, Haj and Auqaf, and Parliamentary Affairs, Abdul Rehman Veeri, told the Legislative Assembly in Jammu that the process of dialogue and reconciliation initiated by Vajpayee in 2003 needed to be taken forward.