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Pak tests India's patience again

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There are two facets to the ambush in Poonch sector in Jammu and Kashmir in which five Indian army soldiers were killed and one was injured in the...

There are two facets to the ambush in Poonch sector in Jammu and Kashmir in which five Indian army soldiers were killed and one was injured in the early hours of Tuesday. One, how the Indian Government bungled it up while reporting the incident to Parliament; two, Pakistan’s outright rejection as if nothing had happened and the Indian charge was a fabrication bordering on blatant lies. Both need closer scrutiny. For, the killings were the most serious ones after the beheading of two of our soldiers on January 8 this year on the Indian side of heavily guarded Line of Control. At that time too, there was a lot of fire and filibuster in the country but the outcome was a whimper. Pakistan got away with murder.

In Tuesday’s attack, a 20-member team of Pakistan Army regulars infiltrated about half a kilometer into the Indian territory and slew five soldiers patrolling the LoC near Cheetah post. Needless to say, it was an unprovoked and brazen assault aimed at provoking a response from the Indian side when both the countries are planning to resume peace dialogue and Prime Minister Manmohan Singh is mulling meeting his Pak counterpart Nawaz Sharif on the sidelines of UN General Assembly session in New York next month. Now, both talks and meeting are in jeopardy.

While Parliamentarians’ and people’s outrage over the killings is palpable, Defence Minister AK Antony’s statement in both Houses of Parliament on Tuesday was diabolical. What the Army had said in its first statement and what Antony had read out in Parliament was at variance and a slight connotation change had altered the meaning to such an extent that the cross-border raid was an act of militants or non-State players in the garb of regular Pak Army soldiers, thus giving the benefit of the doubt to who was actually behind the operation.

However, the fact remains that the brazen intrusion – whether it was done by regular Pak soldiers or terrorists wearing Army uniforms – would not have occurred without the knowledge of Pakistani military at least at the unit level. That means certain elements within the Pak Army ranks are bent upon creating trouble on the LoC periodically to test our Army’s alertness and government’s response which in this case has run on expected lines. More damaging was Antony’s statement, which he defended, of course, that gave the benefit of the doubt to Pakistani operation. Not surprisingly, both the Sharif’s government and the Army have denied the attack. In any case, to expect them to own it up is re-declaring our faith in diplomatic niceties that have not done any wonders in improving our ties with Pakistan. Nor Antony's cautious statement giving an escape route to Pakistan.

If the government is looking at the prospects of reviving the peace dialogue that was suspended after the brutal killings in January by mollifying Pakistan, at least for now, it is on the wrong track. While diplomatic solutions are preferable to military operations, the country should not be seen as a weakling in the eyes of the world in general and our neighbours in particular. The government will be under greater pressure until the scheduled general elections next year, both internally and externally on borders with China and Pakistan. Ironically, the Tuesday raid comes at a time when China is making repeated claims over north-eastern territory. If the government has to meet the twin dangers, first at the diplomatic level, it has to be firm in its dealings with both the neighbours. The UPA government has to make it clear to the new Pakistani Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif who has vowed to improve ties with India that any border incursion means blocking the road to peace.

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