The recent incidents on the Line of Control between Indian and Pakistani army troops has predictably generated a lot of heat and has taken up oodles of air and print space in the media on both sides of the border.
My colleague Zaffar Iqbal sends an email to me and the NDTV Newsdesk which reads: “Ceasefire violation in Uri sector of Kashmir. Pakistan army resorted to unprovoked firing on Indian posts near village CHURUNDA close to LoC. Pak fired mortar shells and illumination shots. Many shells landed close to the village. Panic has gripped the villagers who fear casualties and damage to property. Firing started at 3.30 am and possibly to help infiltration. Alert troops retaliated and forced Pakistani troops to stop firing.”
Tuesday 8 January, 1.15 pm or thereabouts:
On my facebook page and twitter timeline, queries start appearing: Have you heard of beheading of one of the two soldiers killed?
By 2 pm I am bombarded by faujis, fauji wives and others with information that one soldier is indeed beheaded. They were incredulous why I and other mainstream media guys were fighting shy of mentioning the barbaric act.
3 pm: Northern Command PRO, Lt. Col Rajesh Kalia continues to maintain that 2 soldiers have been killed and he has no more information at that point.
4 pm: Zaffar calls up and sends a mail saying he is pretty sure of the beheading but no one in the Army was reachable.
I again call up the usual contacts in Northern Command, the Army HQ and whoever I can reach in the fauj but no confirmation yet.
I and Zaffar in any case go on air saying two soldiers have indeed been killed after a suspected cross-border raid, their weapons snatched.
Finally, a senior officer at the Army HQ reluctantly admits that one body is muitilated
without confirming if it was beheaded. So we stick to ‘muitilation,’ in absence of official admission.
6.30 to 8 pm:
Classic reporter’s dilemma continues to dog us: Despite being aware of what had happened, lack of official confirmation means I am only circling around the fact by saying we have heard of this but no confirmation officially!
8.05: A senior officer in Northern Command finally confirms beheading. That’s the time we go on air confirming beheading as fact!
9 January, Wednesday
The Hindu’s Praveen Swami reports of a grandmother’s crossing the LoC and an aggressive commander on the LoC having sparked off the latest confrontation.
8 am: I call up the commander in question and ask him, half in jest: “So you have riled the Pakistanis so much.” He laughs and says: “I wish I had that kind of power. In any case, I was on leave till yesterday (8th January).” We exchange further notes.
Zaffar in the meantime has reached Rajouri and is outside the Military Hospital there. The autopsy of the two killed soldiers is being carried out there.
At 11.45 am, Brig JK Tiwari, the No. 2 man in the 25 Infantry Division (which guards the LoC at Mendhar and Poonch among other places) goes on record, on camera to confirm the beheading.
1.58 pm: Zaffar says bodies flown out to Delhi.
2.20: We are told in the Defence Ministry the bodies are going to Agra since easier to send one to Mathura (Hemraj’s).
5 pm: Defence Ministry issues clarification on a couple of stories, including The Hindu’s.
Prime Time: Most TV Channels discuss the incident. Some project this as an act of war.
10 January, Thursday
5 pm: Zaffar says from Poonch cross-LoC trade halted. But trade is normal at Uri!
7.30 pm: Zaffar reprts fresh firing in Poonch, Mendhar etc.
post-8.30 pm: Lance Naik Hemraj’s cremation takes place.
11 January, Friday
Occasional exchange of firing from both sides. Zaffar hangs on around the Poonch area. India asks for a flag meeting. Pakistan hasn’t responded.
12 January, Saturday
Air Chief, ACM, NAK ‘Charlie” Browne is visiting the NCC Cadets’ camp in New Delhi. Reporters confront him there. As Chairman Chiefs of Staff Committee, he is forceful and candid, without sounding like a war monger.
“We have a Line of Control, we have a ceasefire agreement, we have certain structures and mechanisms which are sacrosanct and any violation of these with impunity especially what has been happening in the last few months is totally unacceptable.
“We are monitoring the situation carefully because if these things continue to be the way they are and these violations continue to take place, then perhaps we may have to look at some other options for compliance,” he says.
7 pm: Zaffar says an infiltration attempt foiled at Mendhar.
The Air Chief’s statement sets off another round of heated and in many cases hysterical discussions on TV programmes.
13 January, Sunday
Relatively quiet day.
14 January, Monday:
Army Chief Gen Bikram Singh in the course of his annual Press Conference gives out the details and warns Pakistan. Says I expect my commanders on LoC to be aggressive and offensive.
He also admits that in July 2011 a similar incident of beheading of 2 soldiers from 20 Kumaon battalion had taken place but denies Army had tried to suppress it.