In a deadly cross-border attack,five Indian Army personnel were killed and a sixth was injured by a group which the government said comprised 20 heavily armed terrorists along with persons dressed in Pakistan army uniforms near the Line of Control (LoC) early on Tuesday morning.
The incident comes days after Pakistan expressed a desire to resume the stalled peace talks with India and a meeting between Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and his counterpart Nawaz Sharif was being fixed.
The attack occurred at the Chakkan Da Bagh area in Poonch,which is a border trading point,in the early hours of Tuesday when six Indian Army personnel were patrolling the LoC,several hundred metres ahead of the border fencing but 450 metres within the Indian side of the boundary.
In his statement in Parliament,Defence Minister A K Antony said the men were ambushed on our side of the LoC,but stopped short of blaming regular Pakistan army troops for the attack. The ambush was carried out by approximately 20 heavily armed terrorists along with persons dressed in Pakistan army uniforms, he said.
This was at variance with the Armys statement which said the attack was carried out by terrorists along with soldiers of Pak army. The Army also said the attack was carried out by a Pak Border Action Team. However,within hours,the Armys statement was revised to reflect what Antony had said in Parliament,to the effect that persons dressed in Pakistan army uniforms took part in the attack. No explanation was given for the revision.
But Army sources backed the original statement,saying that soldiers of Pakistans 801 Mujahid battalion took part in the attack along with militants. It was a well-planned and coordinated attack that clearly involved regular troops of the Pakistan army. It was a Pakistan Border Action Team (BAT) that executed the attack, said these sources.
Pakistan,meanwhile,denied the involvement of its troops. A PTI report from Islamabad quoted Foreign Office spokesman
Pak troops Aizaz Chaudhry as saying that these are baseless and unfounded allegations.
According to sources,the attack took place at a time when the 21 Bihar Regiment was in the process of handing over charge of its area of responsibility to the 14 Maratha Light Infantry (MLI) in Poonch. The time of handing over charge is considered vulnerable as Pakistani troops are known to target battalions that are being inducted before they get familiarised with the terrain. The patrol originated from the Cheetah post and was going along the LoC when it came under attack.
Of the five personnel who were killed in the ambush,four belonged to the 21 Bihar Regiment Naik Prem Nath Singh,Lance Naik Shambu Singh,Sepoy Vijay Kumar Roy and Sepoy Raghunandan Prasad while the fifth,Sepoy Pundlik Mane,was from Maratha Light. The sole survivor of the attack,Sambhaji Kute,is from 14 MLI. While he was injured in the attack,Kute is said to be out of danger and has told his superiors that the patrol came under heavy fire from several directions while it was moving along the LoC.
A changeover of troops was in progress in Poonch and the advance party of the 14 MLI that was to take charge was being familiarised with the Sarla battalion area, confirmed officials.
Army Chief General Bikram Singh is expected to reach Poonch tomorrow and is likely to visit the area to take stock of the situation.
It is unclear why Antony was guarded in his statement in parliament and did not directly name the Pakistani Army. In January,following an attack on Indian troops in Mendhar when one soldier was beheaded and mutilated,Antony had clearly said that the Special Services Group of Pakistan Army had executed the attack.
Antony also told parliament today that India has lodged a strong protest with the Pakistan government through diplomatic channels and said the Army is fully ready to take all necessary steps to uphold the sanctity of LoC. The minister said the number of infiltration attempts on the LoC have doubled this year as compared to the same period in 2012,adding that 57 ceasefire violations have taken place,which is 80 per cent more than last year.
The Indian Army successfully eliminated 19 hardcore terrorists in the recent months of July and August along the LoC and in the hinterland in J&K. The effective counter infiltration grid on the LoC has ensured that 17 infiltration bids were foiled this year, he said.
The Army statement also said the action is a likely consequence of frustrations of the terrorists tanzeems and Pak Army due to successful elimination of 19 hardcore terrorists in the months of July and August in J&K. It added that the Pak Armys desperation is also evident in the substantial increase in the number of ceasefire violations this year.