Jammu/New Delhi : In an unprovoked attack smacking of cowardice, 20 heavily armed men intruded 450 metres into Indian territory in the Poonch sector in the wee hours on Tuesday and ambushed a patrol party, killing five Indian soldiers.
The ambush instantly triggered all round outrage with demands for a strong government response. The clamour is expected to put the government under pressure to respond aggressively as it heads into a tough election next year.
The attack came just days after there was a botched attempt to bomb the Indian consulate in Jalalabad in eastern Afghanistan.
In Delhi, Pakistan Deputy High Commissioner Mansoor Ahmed Khan was summoned to South Block and a strong protest was lodged over the killings.
The Pakistani army, predictably, denied any role in the attack, saying there had been no exchange of fire on LoC.
Defence Minister A K Antony, too, unwittingly furnished Pakistan an alibi for the attack by stating in Parliament that the killing was carried out by “terrorists along with persons dressed in Pakistan Army uniform.”
The statement triggered strong reactions from political parties, which said it amounted to providing an “escape route” to Pakistan. Islamabad, Opposition members pointed out, was already claiming that they were not behind the ambush.
The Opposition joined hands in both the Houses to express disgust at the government feeling “completely helpless” in the face of repeated aggression by Pakistan, wondering why the Prime Minister did not treat the matter serious enough to merit a response in Parliament.
In an identical brief 3-paragraph statement in both the Houses, the Defence Minister merely condemned the incident, pointing out that India has lodged a strong protest with the Pakistan through diplomatic channels.
He, however, went on to assure the members that ‘’our Army is ready to take steps to uphold the sanctity of LoC.’’
The Opposition, which got an opportunity to put the government on the mat through clarifications sought on the government’s statement, insisted that India should respond strongly to such provocative acts, not only by Pakistan but also China.
Islamabad has been pushing for a meeting between Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif and Manmohan Singh on the sidelines of the UN General Assembly. The ambush is seen as a concerted attempt to derail the talks.
Army sources in Poonch said that the attack was carried out by a group of Lashkar-e-Toiba terrorists with the help of Pakistani soldiers.
In January a group of Pakistan Army soldiers had infiltrated across the LoC in Mendhar sector and killed two Indian soldiers. The head of one of the soldiers was severed and was taken across the LOC. There were 93 cease-fire violations along the LoC in Jammu and Kashmir in 2012, taking the total number since 2010 to 188. In 2013, there have been 57 violations thus far.