New Delhi, Aug. 6: Five soldiers of the Indian Army were killed in an ambush near the Line of Control by attackers who defence minister A.K. Antony said were in Pakistani Army uniforms, plunging ties between the two countries to a new low since the Nawaz Sharif government took over in Islamabad.
Pakistan dismissed as “baseless and unfounded” the allegation that its soldiers were involved in the attack but the Indian Parliament devoted almost the entire day to a discussion during which Opposition leaders charged the government with a weak response to repeated provocations.
The foreign ministry also summoned the Pakistan deputy high commissioner in New Delhi and protested against the killings that have cast a shadow over moves for a meeting between Prime Ministers Manmohan Singh and Nawaz Sharif in New York in September.
Political pressure mounted on the government from outside Parliament too. BJP campaign panel chief Narendra Modi tweeted: “Dastardly ambush by Pakistan… is unacceptable… From China’s intrusions to Pakistan’s ambushes — UPA government has been absolutely lax in securing the Indian borders. When will Centre wake up?”
“We will take appropriate steps,” external affairs minister Salman Khurshid said, in reply to a journalist’s question. “No one should think we are weak, but at the same time we are in the government and have a responsibility. Sadly, the Opposition does not understand. We know our national interests and responsibilities.”
The army chief, General Bikram Singh, is likely to visit the Northern Command and the conflict zone tomorrow.
|Coffins of the soldiers killed in the attack. (PTI)
Bilateral talks between India and Pakistan were practically stalled since January 8 when two Indian soldiers were killed — one of them beheaded — and Manmohan Singh declared that “it cannot be business as usual” with Pakistan.
Those killings were about 40km south of the spot where the five soldiers were ambushed in Poonch last night about 400 metres inside the Line of Control but outside the fence that India has erected to keep out infiltrating militants.
Army sources said the patrol of six soldiers — four from the 21 Bihar Regiment and two from the 14 Maratha Light Infantry battalions — had left a post called Cheetah to patrol the route to another post when they were ambushed by the “heavily armed” attackers.
There was a difference between what the defence minister said in Parliament and what the Indian Army gave out in a statement from Jammu. Antony said: “The ambush was carried out by approximately 20 heavily armed terrorists along with persons dressed in Pakistan Army uniforms.”
The defence spokesperson in Jammu said: “A patrol of Indian Army comprising of one non-commissioned officer and five other ranks was ambushed by a Pak Border Action Team close to the Line of Control…. The ambush was carried out by approximately 20 heavily armed terrorists along with soldiers of Pak Army.”
Late in the evening, the army withdrew the release and substituted it with the words used by Antony in Parliament: “armed terrorists along with persons dressed in Pakistan Army uniforms”.