New Delhi, Aug. 7: India has given Pakistan a chance to explain the killing of five soldiers on the Line of Control in Kashmir but has warned Islamabad that peace talks and a planned meeting between Prime Ministers will hinge on its response.
Defence minister A.K. Antony’s statement in Parliament yesterday, which triggered outrage in the Opposition, was carefully crafted to abstain from knee-jerk blame-games that typically mark ties between the neighbours, top government officials confirmed to The Telegraph.
Instead, New Delhi has communicated to Islamabad that it is ready to give its neighbour an opportunity to explain who carried out Monday’s attack in the Poonch region that led to the death of five soldiers manning their de-facto border. Pakistan has denied that any of its troops crossed the LoC or attacked Indian soldiers.
When South Block summoned Pakistan’s deputy high commissioner Mansoor Ahmad Khan yesterday, the diplomat was told that New Delhi “expects” a believable explanation, officials said.
The explanation, they added, would have to be consistent with Pakistan Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif’s public assertions that he wants to engage in peaceful talks with India.
But the window given by India is far from the “escape route” BJP leaders have criticised Antony of giving Islamabad. Khan was told that an unsatisfactory official response would hurt attempts at reviving talks on water disputes proposed by Sharif’s government, the officials said. It could also sink plans for a meeting between Manmohan Singh and Sharif on the sidelines of the UN General Assembly in the last week of September in New York.
“Going forward we will have to see how Pakistan responds,” external affairs minister Salman Khurshid said, as Parliament was adjourned a second day in a row over the killings.
Hard strategic realities are guiding this approach, a stark departure from earlier responses where attacks have triggered almost instantaneous responses blaming the Pakistan establishment, officials argued. New Delhi believes the differences between the peace on Sharif’s lips and the aggression allegedly carried out by the Pakistan Army reflect a divide between Islamabad, the political capital, and Rawalpindi, the army’s headquarters, on that nation’s approach to India.
“There are enough hints that suggest that the Pakistan Army isn’t happy with the overtures Sharif made to India, even before he was elected, without consulting them,” an official said.
By avoiding direct allegations at Islamabad — Antony said the attackers were “terrorists and men dressed in Pakistani army uniforms” —New Delhi wants to skirt attempts to trap it in this ongoing battle within Pakistan, the official said.
The killings along the LoC also almost mirror allegations by Pakistan just a few days ago that Indian troops entered its territory, kidnapped five “herb gatherers” and then subsequently killed them. India has rubbished the charges, but officials said they recognise that the sequence of allegations may in the absence of hard evidence end up communicating, internationally, a tit-for-tat by Pakistan at worst.
“We need to be able to tell the world that this was more than a tit-for-tat, that it was unprovoked, if we’re going to call off a meeting between the Prime Ministers in front of the world’s leaders at the UN,” another official said. “We’re the victim, not the aggressor, but we can’t let television tempers blur that line before the world.”
But a failure by Islamabad to explain the killings “satisfactorily” would change this dynamic, the official said. New Delhi is willing to wait.