LoC: Antony loses face, Nawaz Sharif saves his

NEW DELHI (TIP): Hours after Defence Minister A K Antony backtracked from his earlier statement in Parliament and squarely blamed the Pakistan Army for carrying out the attack on the Line of Control that killed five Indian soldiers, Pakistan Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif provided an “escape route” to the beleaguered government.

Sharif, who had a briefing in the Pakistan Foreign Office on Thursday, expressed “sadness” over the loss of human lives and made it clear to his officials that it was “incumbent upon the leadership of both sides not to allow the situation to drift and to take steps to improve the atmosphere by engaging constructively with a view to building trust and confidence”. He went on to add that it was “imperative” for both sides to “take effective steps to ensure and restore the ceasefire on the Line of Control”.

Military-to-military channels should be more “optimally utilized to prevent misunderstandings and not allowing the situation to escalate”. Further, Sharif suggested that both sides must also look to identify more measure to strengthen existing mechanisms at political and military levels. “The Prime Minister said that he was looking forward to his meeting with Prime Minister Manmohan Singh on the sidelines of the United Nations General Assembly in New York. During the meeting, we will discuss steps to further build trust and consolidate this relationship, the Prime Minister added,” stated a Pakistan Foreign Office release.

But Sharif’s efforts to calm tempers were in stark contrast to the mood in New Delhi, where the government went back to adopt the hard line that it had first tried to avoid. Under pressure from the Opposition, Antony on Thursday made a second statement based on what he said was Army Chief Gen Bikram Singh’s feedback after visiting the scene of the killings. “Since then the Chief of the Army Staff has visited the area and has gone into the details of the matter, it is now clear that the specialist troops of Pakistan Army were involved in this attack when a group from the Pakistan Occupied Kashmir (PoK) side crossed the LOC and killed our brave jawans. We all know that nothing happens from Pakistan side of the Line of Control without support, assistance, facilitation and often, direct involvement of the Pakistan Army,” Antony told Parliament.

This was a clear reversal of the UPA’s earlier stand that the attack was carried out by terrorists and some people in Pakistan Army fatigues. Antony sought to justify this change of stance by saying the earlier statement to Parliament was based on “fact as we knew them at that point of time”. Going beyond this, the Defence Minister linked this attack to the brutal killing of two Indian soldiers, one of whom was beheaded, earlier this year as well as the 26/11 attacks while claiming that the perpetrators will not be spared. “Those in Pakistan who are responsible for this tragedy and the brutal killing of two soldiers earlier this year should not go unpunished.

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Pakistan should also show determined action to dismantle the terrorist networks, organisations and infrastructure and show tangible movement on bringing those responsible for the Mumbai terrorist attack in November 2008 to justice quickly,” he said. As he made these connections, it became clear that the government had to also promise subsequent action on the lines of what had been done when each of these earlier incidents took place. Antony did so by linking this to the overall dialogue process and committing before Parliament that there will be consequences. “Naturally, this incident will have consequences on our behaviour on the Line of Control and for our relations with Pakistan.

Our restraint should not be taken for granted, nor should the capacity of our Armed Forces and resolve of the Government to uphold the sanctity of the LC ever be doubted.” With the Defence Minister making amends, the BJP was more generous with praise. “I thank the Defence Minister for rectifying the mistake which he had made,” Leader of Opposition Sushma Swaraj said, adding “such a mistake should not be repeated.” The Rajya Sabha was adjourned due to an uproar barely after Antony began speaking. Deputy Chairman P J Kurien disallowed members from asking questions on the ground that Antony could not complete his statement nor had he allowed him to table it. Minister of State for Parliamentary Affairs Rajeev Shukla clarified later, “We will again request the Defence Minister to clarify…On Monday he will make the statement in the House again.”

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