Minister’s new statement calms situation; Sharif expresses regret but does not respond to charge of Pakistani involvement

Even as Defence Minister A.K. Antony amended his statement on the killing of five Indian soldiers on the Line of Control (LoC) after vociferous protests by the Bharatiya Janata Party, Pakistan Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif expressed sadness over the bloodletting on the border but did not respond to the Indian charge of active involvement by the Pakistan Army.

The Defence Minister’s revised statement helped bring the temperature down, facilitating resumption of Parliament as was evident in the remarks that followed by the Leader of the Opposition in the Lok Sabha Sushma Swaraj.

The BJP, which in the last two days has been publicly demanding that the government should not have any engagement with Islamabad at any level, toned down its stridency. Ms. Swaraj tweeted: “I am happy with today's statement of the Defence Minister. Let us deal with the terror first. We will talk later.”

Significantly, after a meeting with his Foreign Ministry officials in Islamabad, Mr. Sharif was very clear that he was looking forward to his meeting with Prime Minister Manmohan Singh in New York later next month. In what is to be the first formal contact after taking over as Prime Minister, Mr. Sharif expected that the meeting would help discuss steps to further build trust and consolidate the relationship.

Besides, expressing sadness over recurring bouts of violence on the LoC, Mr. Sharif felt it was imperative to take effective steps to ensure and restore ceasefire on the LoC. Emphasising the full utilisation of existing military to military channels to prevent misunderstanding that could escalate into an unmanageable situation, he expressed Pakistan’s readiness to discuss further steps for strengthening the existing mechanisms at political as well as military levels.

In Parliament, Mr. Antony was more preoccupied with containing the political damage from his Wednesday’s statement that appeared to have let Pakistan Army off the hook. Warning that India's restraint should not be taken for granted, he clarified his earlier statement on the basis that more information has come in after the Chief of Army Staff, Gen Bikram Singh, visited the area.

The operative part of his amended statement said: “It is now clear that specialist troops of the Pakistan Army were involved in the attack when a group from Pakistan occupied Kashmir crossed the LoC and killed our brave jawans…We all know that nothing happens from Pakistan side of LoC without support, assistance, facilitation and often, direct involvement of the Pakistan Army.” He wanted Pakistan to show determination in dismantling the terrorist infrastructure and show tangible movement on bringing those responsible for the Mumbai terrorist attack in November 2008 to justice quickly.

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