New Delhi: The Army has been given a ''free hand'' to deal with Pakistan after two Indian soldiers were beheaded and another injured by a Pakistani 'Border Action Team' (BAT) that sneaked into Indian territory under cover of heavy shelling in the Krishna Ghati sector in Poonch district of Jammu and Kashmir on Monday.
A Times of India report, quoting highly placed sources, said on Tuesday that the Army has been given a free hand to respond to what the government termed as ''barbaric'' and ''highly cowardly'' act by Pakistan's BAT.
Meanwhile, Defence Minister Arun Jaitley today met PM Narendra Modi and briefed him about the incident. The two leaders also assessed the ground situation and explored options on how to avenge Pakistan's unabated provocations.
The reports also claimed that the attack on Indian Army patrol team was a ''planned operation'' by a group of Pakistani special forces who had set up an ambush more than 250 metres deep inside the Indian territory.''
The latest provocation by Pakistan has further deteriorated the bilateral ties and evoked a sharp response from the two armies.
The two sides have escalated their exchange of fire in several areas along the 778-km Line of Control in Jammu and Kashmir after the Indian government vowed to exact revenge for the "barbaric" mutilation of the bodies of the two Indian soldiers during the well-planned BAT raid.
The Army sources claimed that the ambush conducted over 200 metres inside the Indian territory came less than 24 hours after Pakistan Army chief General Qamar Javed Bajwa visited the LoC on Sunday.
In response to the incident, the Indian Government sources said that the Indian Army has been given a free hand to respond to the fresh beheading, with Defence Minister Arun Jaitley holding that the sacrifice of the two Indian men in uniform would not go in vain.
The Army, on its part, promised "appropriate" retribution for the "despicable act".
General Bipin Rawat, incidentally, was in the Kashmir Valley on Monday to review the operational situation along the LoC as well as the counter-insurgency operations in the hinterland.
"While fire assaults are already under way in different sectors of the LoC, the retaliation for Pakistan army's unsoldierly act in mutilating the bodies will be well-planned and executed at a time and place of our choosing," said a senior officer.
The incident will mount further pressure, both tactically and politically, on the Narendra Modi government to walk its tough talk on security issues, coming as it does just after the recent massacre of CRPF jawans in Sukma as well as the terror attack on the Panzgam Army camp.
The BAT raid on Monday, during which bodies of Naib Subedar Paramjit Singh (22 Sikh Regiment) and head constable Prem Sagar (200 BSF Battalion) were left mutilated, is the third such macabre episode since the 'surgical strikes' against terror launchpads in Pakistan-occupied Kashmir on September 29.
India had unleashed "punitive" artillery fire assaults on forward Pakistan army posts after two Indian soldiers were similarly beheaded, with their heads taken back as trophies, in separate BAT raids in the Macchil sector in October-November last year.
"This is a reprehensible and an inhuman act by our neighbour. Such acts don't take place even during war, let alone peace. Bodies of soldiers being mutilated is an extreme form of barbarism," Defence Minister Arun Jaitley said.
"The Indian government strongly condemns this act and the whole country has full confidence and faith in our armed forces, which will react appropriately to this inhuman act. The sacrifice of these soldiers will not go in vain," he added.
Meanwhile, the Pakistani Army had categorically denied India's charge of mutilating two of the latter's soldiers and described itself as a highly professional force that never disrespects any soldier.
"Pakistan Army did not commit any ceasefire violation on LOC or a BAT action in Buttal sector (Indian Krishna Ghati Sector) as alleged by India. Indian blame of mutilating Indian soldiers' bodies is also false," the Inter Services Public Relation (ISPR) said in a statement.
The Indian Army, however, confirmed the news by releasing a statement on Twitter.
With ANI/IANS inputs