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Delhi restraint on soldier deaths
Visa deal rethink unlikely: Officials

New Delhi, Jan. 10: Trade across the Line of Control came to a halt today amid reports of fresh firing between Indian and Pakistani troops but key sources in Delhi said any immediate retaliatory steps were unlikely.

Union home minister Sushil Kumar Shinde and national security adviser Shivshankar Menon both said there had been no rethink yet on the liberalised visa agreement the neighbours signed last year.

Indian officials also reacted with caution to reports that bilateral trade had stopped across the LoC. An official said Delhi was trying to ascertain whether it was Islamabad’s official decision or it was because of local factors in Pakistan-occupied Kashmir.

India rejected Pakistan’s proposal that the United Nations Military Observer Group in India and Pakistan (UNMOGIP) investigate Delhi’s allegation of “barbaric and inhuman mutilation” of two Indian soldiers by Pakistan Army troops.

“(The) UNMOGIP still exists?” Menon said. “I thought they do not have a role.”

Menon voiced concern over the “increase” in ceasefire violations and infiltration attempts across the LoC. “There has been an increase in infiltration attempts, not only in the last few months. In 2012 there was an increase overall over 2011. That is a fact. And that is something we are dealing with, both ourselves and with the Pakistani authorities,” he said.

An Indian official said India-Pakistan ties were not a “zero sum game. This is not the sum total of everything and has not happened for the first time. Instead of shouting, we should give them (Pakistan) time to take action”.

Shinde refused to take an extreme view of the killing of two soldiers, one of whom was beheaded. He said the government would “carry out” the visa deal announced jointly by Shinde and his Pakistan counterpart Rehman Malik late last year.

The first of the visa recipients under the new regime — that aims to make travel easier for citizens of both countries — are likely to cross the Wagah border from either side next week. “There is no rethink on the agreement,” Shinde told reporters, asked if the government would review the agreement in the wake of the ceasefire violation.

Shinde said there had been inputs that Jamaat ud Dawa chief Hafiz Saeed met some people in Pakistan-occupied Kashmir recently. However, the minister did not dwell on the issue and sources close to him said Saeed often visits PoK. “It is not a new thing,” said a source close to Shinde.

The home ministry’s refusal to take a hawkish stand appeared to be tied to the action Islamabad is taking against the Mumbai attack suspects.

Sources said voice samples of Lashkar-e-Toiba activist Zaki-ur Rehman Lakhvi provided by India had been matched by Pakistani agencies. Lakhvi is in a Pakistani jail and, though Delhi claims he is treated like a VIP, the latest inputs from Pakistan suggest action is being taken.

Pakistan is also trying to create a legal framework so that the voice samples India provided might be admissible as evidence in court. “We want to resolve the (Mumbai attack) case at the earliest,” Shinde said, explaining that judicial commissions from either side would examine officials involved with the 26/11 case.

Menon cautioned against speculating on the government’s next move. “You have heard what the foreign minister said. He has made it quite clear that he is not jumping to any conclusions at this moment…. The government has said what it has to say on the event. You have a selection of adjectives — reprehensible, barbaric, dastardly, whatever you want. Sadly, it is not the first time this has happened. I hope it never happens again. But we have also told you exactly what we intend to do. So, now I think you should let the government go about its business,” he said.

Finance minister P. Chidambaram said: “Whatever has to be done will be done.” He also asserted that Indian troops had not violated the ceasefire agreement.

At the UN, a spokesperson for secretary-general Ban Ki-moon said the UNMOGIP had received a complaint from the Pakistan Army, which has accused Indian troops of killing one of its soldiers on January 6. Spokesperson Martin Nesirky said the UNMOGIP “will conduct an investigation as soon as possible in accordance with its mandate”.

Delhi does not acknowledge the existence of the observer group, though it does have a sprawling office in the heart of the city. It also has an office in Srinagar. “We (India) don’t interact with them. Nobody takes them seriously here,” said a senior diplomat.

A visit to the UNMOGIP office suggested as much. The gates of the two-storey bungalow were locked at 3pm. The office is manned by a UN representative and an Indian associate. A security guard said both were “out of office on work”.