New Delhi: India and Pakistan maintained the truce on their border Thursday as External Affairs Minister Salman Khurshid declined to commit himself to talks with his Pakistani counterpart to resolve their stand-off over ceasefire violations on the LoC.
A day after India’s Director General of Military Operations (DGMO) and his Pakistani counterpart agreed to maintain peace on the border, the Indian cabinet was Thursday briefed on the easing of tensions by Defence Minister A.K. Antony and Khurshid.
Khurshid also informed the cabinet of his Pakistani counterpart Hina Rabbani Khar offering to discuss the tensions at the level of foreign ministers. Khar in a late Wednesday statement had said that the two countries instead of “ratcheting up tension” should discuss all issues relating to the Line of Control (LoC) “may be at the level of the Foreign Ministers to sort out things”.
The quiet on the border comes after 10 days of ceasefire violations, that continued even after the two sides held a flag meeting at the brigadier level on Monday.
Following the killing of one of their soldiers on Jan 6 in alleged firing by Indian troops, Pakistani soldiers had brutally killed two Indian soldiers, including beheading one, on Jan 8, leading to a flare-up between the two neighbours. Pakistan said that two more of its soldiers were killed in firing by the Indian side.
The brutal beheading of Lance Naik Hemraj Singh, whose head is still missing, and the killing and mutilation of Lance Naik Sudhakar Singh, by the Pakistani forces has led to loud protests in India and calls for snapping ties with Pakistan.
On Tuesday, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, taking a tough stand, said India’s relations with Pakistan “cannot be business as usual” following the brutal killing and asked that Pakistan bring the perpetrator of the killings to book.
Antony is learnt to have informed the union cabinet of the 10 minute talk Wednesday morning between the DGMOs — India’s Lt. Gen. Vinod Bhatia and his Pakistani counterpart, Maj. Gen. Ashfaq Nadeem.
The two DGMOs had agreed to exercise restraint and observe the ceasefire strictly. The ceasefire, agreed upon in 2003, is an important part of the confidence building measures between the two sides. India has always stressed upon the sanctity of the ceasefire along the LoC that divides Kashmir between India and Pakistan.
Khurshid has declined to commit himself to accepting Khar’s offer for bilateral talks, saying that India can not move forward for talks just on the basis of “one statement”.
In an interview to CNN-IBN channel, Khurshid also said that India’s tough message two days ago that there “cannot be business as usual” with Pakistan in the wake of the brutal killing of two Indian soldiers, had not been said “only for effect”.
Khurshid said India stands by its demands to Islamabad – asking for the perpetrator of the beheading of Lance Naik Hemraj to be brought to book.
“..we obviously stand by the content and the substance of what we believe is critical and crucial to what went wrong. And therefore obviously, addressing that will be a move towards putting it right”, he said.
India on Tuesday put on hold a liberalised visa agreement allowing senior citizens from the two countries to visit while nine Pakistani hockey players who had come to play for the India Hockey League had to return.
Khurshid, in his interview to the news channel, did not say if the Pakistani women cricketers would be allowed to play the World Cup in India. He also said he had no information in the proposed meeting between the commerce ministers of the two countries later this month had been called off.
Jammu and Kashmir’s opposition Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) patron Mufti Mohammad Sayeed said the recent events along the LoC were a “severe setback” to the peace process.
Sayeed, in a statement, regretted that Manmohan Singh “had chosen to lend his voice to the hawks in the current Indo-Pakistan problems”.
The Communist Party of India-Marxist Thursday urged the government not to call off the peace process with Pakistan despite the brutal killing of two Indian soldiers, but underlined that India “should take a firm stand and convey to the Pakistan authorities that such attacks are unacceptable and cannot be tolerated”.
The Bharatiya Janata Party however said that there is a total disconnect in what Pakistan preaches and practices and India should go by its actions on the borders.
“Pakistan is a multi-headed hydra and talks in different languages. There is a total disconnect in what it preaches and practices,” party spokesperson Balbir Punj told reporters here.