Hours after Prime Minister Manmohan Singh warned that “business as usual” was not possible with Pakistan in the wake of the January 8 incident on the Line of Control in which two Indian soldiers were killed, the sudden chill in bilateral relations claimed its first casualties: elderly Pakistanis who had queued up at the Wagah border for the start of the visa-free entry regime for senior citizens were turned back as India cited “technical reasons” for putting on hold the much-awaited travel policy; and the Hockey Federation decided that nine Pakistani hockey players who were to take part in the Hockey India League tournament would be sent home as protests by radical outfits against their presence had allegedly raised security fears.
Also on Tuesday, External Affairs Minister Salman Khurshid issued a structured statement against the beheading of an Indian soldier. In the main, it asked Pakistan to come out of its state of denial and book those involved in the incident.
There was no word on whether the scheduled month-end meeting of Commerce Ministers would take place, even as the Prime Minister said he hoped Pakistan realised that India wanted the prosecution of those involved in the beheading of Lance Naik Hemraj.
The marked hardening of the government’s posture came soon after Bharatiya Janata Party leaders Sushma Swaraj and Arun Jaitey told National Security Adviser Shivshankar Menon that they expected the government to send a tough message to Pakistan.
At the same time, Dr. Singh briefed President Pranab Mukherjee on the issues arising out of the flare-up on the LoC that has claimed the lives of four soldiers from both sides since January 6. The foreign offices of both countries have summoned the other side’s diplomats to protest against the killings.
India has put on hold the ‘visa on arrival’ facility, which was to begin operating from Tuesday. Officially, technical reasons were responsible for the freeze but government sources said growing tension between the two neighbours led to India suspending the facility. Home Ministry officials said a decision on the issue would be taken at an appropriate time and quoted objections raised by various government agencies for the delay in implementation of ‘visa on arrival’ facility for Pakistani senior citizens.
India has been incensed over the beheading of its soldier, which, it says, “defies all logic of soldiering and violates all norms of international conduct.” Mr. Khurshid’s statement said such action by the Pakistan army was a “grave provocation” and led India to draw “appropriate conclusions about Pakistan’s seriousness in pursuing normalisation of relations with India.”
India revealed that it had demanded a Pakistani probe to book the culprits responsible for the beheading on at least two earlier occasions. The Director-General, Military Operations, first made the request for an investigation in his hotline conversation with his Pakistani counterpart. This was repeated during the Brigadier-level Flag Meeting held on the LoC.
The government statement also dwelt on this lack of response in equally strong terms: “It should not be felt that the brazen denial and the lack of a proper response from the government of Pakistan to our repeated démarches on this incident will be ignored and that bilateral relations could be unaffected or that there will be business as usual.”