Angry at the beheading of an Indian soldier on Line of Control, Army Chief Gen Bikram Singh today issued a clear warning to Pakistan saying India reserves the right to retaliate at a "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 the 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 SSG had carried out the assault.
He did not rule out the possibility of Lashker-e-Taiba terrorists providing help to Pakistan army in the assault in which two Indian soldiers were killed, one of them beheaded.
"It (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 addressing a press conference on the eve of Army Day.
He revealed that 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 had been beheaded by Pakistani army in 2011 in Kupwara district of Jammu
Asserting that the Pakistani 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, Gen Singh said, "I have told my unit commanders, sub unit commanders, and gate and other
commanders, to retaliate, to be aggressive and offensive when provoked
and fired upon. I don't expect my commanders to be timid... We shall not be passive when fire at. Therefore, when fired at, when provoked, we shall respond."
He said that there was prima facie some "tactical error" on part of the Indian army unit involved and "corrective measures" will be taken.
"At the strategic arena, what is of consequence and has hurt us is the behading 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," Gen Singh said.
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 diplomatic level as also military level, including the Brigadier-level Flag meeting today.
"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.
"Pakistani 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 Indian attack on January 6, Gen Singh said, "The Indian Army had not launched any operation on the 6th. They (Pakistan) have planted lies to justify what they have done."
Maintaining that Pakistani army was "poised for this operation" much in advance, he said such an attack requires preparation of at least 15 days, including recce, and cannot be launched in just two days.
The army chief lauded the Indian commanders and troops deployed on the LoC, saying their response to Pakistani firing has been "measured and perfect".
At the same time, he said "no restrictions" are 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.
Gen Singh said the ceasefire, in place since November 2003, has been holding 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 are 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 over. 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, Gen Singh said, "You may seek clarifications from him regarding 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."
Asserting that Pakistani action was a tactical one, Gen 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 future."
Gen Singh said such attempts are made when the Pakistani troops "get frustrated" in sending infiltrators across the LoC.
He said various scenarios can be worked out which includes Pakistan Army's wish to reactivate the LoC or the court cases faced by the DG, ISI there as 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. We are working this. Our surveillance is being enhanced and our plans are being expanded," he said.