India's army chief threatened to retaliate against Pakistan for the killing of two soldiers in fighting near the border of the disputed region of Kashmir, saying he had asked his commanders there to be aggressive in the face of provocation.
General Bikram Singh's remarks come amid mounting public anger in India after Delhi accused Pakistani soldiers of slitting the throat of one of the soldiers and decapitating him.
Despite each side blaming the other for the worst outbreak of violence in the area since a ceasefire was agreed nine years ago, analysts said a breakdown in ties was highly unlikely. The two nations have fought three wars, two over Kashmir, since independence in 1947 and are now both nuclear-armed.
Calling the beheading of the soldier "gruesome", Singh told a news conference: "We reserve the right to retaliate at a time and place of our choosing." Singh said the Indian army would honour the ceasefire in Kashmir, so long as Pakistan did, but would respond immediately to any violation of the truce.
"I expect all my commanders at the Line of Control to be both aggressive and offensive in the face of provocation and fire," he said. Last week's fighting in the Himalayan region both nations claim comes at a time when the two sides have made some progress in repairing ties, notably by opening trade links.
Both armies have lost two soldiers each in the fighting along parts of the 740-km (460-mile) de facto border this month. "The attack on January 8 was premeditated, a pre-planned activity. Such an operation requires planning, detailed reconnaissance," Singh said. His remarks came hours before local commanders met at a crossing point on the ceasefire line for the first time since the fighting erupted to try and reduce tensions. Both sides lodged protests, accusing each other of ceasefire violations.
The ceasefire in Kashmir has held since it went into effect in November 2003, surviving even the crisis in ties after the Mumbai attacks in November 2008 by Pakistan-based militants. Analysts said it was unlikely the two armies would escalate the situation further and that Singh's remarks may well have been made to maintain the morale of his troops and to respond to a public outcry over the mutilation of both soldiers' bodies.