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Singh talks tough on Pak

- ‘Can’t have business as usual’

New Delhi, Jan. 15: Prime Minister Manmohan Singh today said there cannot be “business as usual” till Pakistan atoned for the murder of Indian soldiers on January 8 in what is the beginning of a dismantling of a peace initiative that began three years ago.

“After this barbaric act, there cannot be business as usual with Pakistan,” Singh said in his first public remarks on the mutilation and beheading of two soldiers seven days ago.

“Those responsible for this crime will have to be brought to book. (I hope) Pakistan realises this,” he said at a reception in army chief General Bikram Singh’s house, a customary ritual on Army Day.

The chiefs of the army, navy and the air force had an “informal briefing session” with the Prime Minister yesterday.

A day after a combative General Bikram Singh said his troops “will retaliate at a place and time of our own choosing” against the beheading and mutilation of the soldiers, India-Pakistan tensions are set to climb an escalatory ladder despite foreign minister Salman Khurshid hoping against it.

But New Delhi is also in a quandary on who to negotiate with in a leaderless Islamabad. Pakistan’s Supreme Court today ordered the arrest of Prime Minister Raja Pervez Ashraf even as protestors in thousands led by an Islamic cleric suspected to be backed by General Ashfaq Kayani’s army demanded that the government quit.

The first sign of the dismantling of confidence building measures was at the border crossing in Wagah where a liberalised visa regime that was to take-off today was put on hold.

The impact was also in the sporting arena: nine Pakistani players hired to play for clubs in the Indian Hockey League were sent home. A Pakistani team that was to arrive in Mumbai to participate in the International Women’s Cricket World Cup may also not land. They are likely to be replaced by Bangladesh.

The weekly passenger bus service that was begun between the two parts of Kashmir as a confidence building measure also did not cross the Line of Control (LoC) on Tuesday. But elsewhere along the taut border, India’s northern army commander, Lt General K.T. Parnaik, said Pakistani troops violated the ceasefire thrice since Monday and at one spot planted anti-personnel landmines between two Indian border posts.

The turnout of the political leadership General Bikram Singh’s residence on Army Day was also a sign that it fully endorsed the General Bikram Singh’s views. Dispelling notions to the contrary, foreign minister Khurshid said: “He is our general.”

The Centre also moved to create a political consensus on its shifting Pakistan policy. On the Prime Minister’s directions, National Security Advisor Shiv Shankar Menon briefed BJP leaders Sushma Swaraj and Arun Jaitley, who have been advocating a hard line in any case.

The contours of the changing policy will unfold later this week. Khurshid said there was a “sense of urgency” after the LoC killings and that the government has “reflected very carefully and closely” on the matter.

Reading from an official statement, Khurshid said: “It should not be felt that the brazen denial and the lack of a proper response from the Government of Pakistan to our repeated demarches on this incident will be ignored and that bilateral relations could be unaffected or that there will be business as usual. Such actions by the Pakistan army, which are in contravention of all norms of international conduct, not only constitute a grave provocation but lead us to draw appropriate conclusions about Pakistan’s seriousness in pursuing normalisation of relations with India.”

Asked what steps the government would take here on, Khurshid said those are decisions to be taken based on the response from Pakistan and on consensus within the government.

“I think specifics of what might be necessary or found useful are decisions that will be taken as we move forward. At present, we feel that its important that a convergent single point of view on behalf of the government which reflects a large section of our public opinion should be made clear and let it be known to everyone here as well as across the border that we are extremely determined and serious in this concern of ours,” the foreign minister said.