“After this barbaric act, it cannot be business as usual (with Pakistan). I hope they realise this,” said Prime Minister Manmohan Singh in his first public reaction to the beheading of an Indian soldier at the Line of Control earlier this month.
Singh was a guest at the Army Day At Home, hosted by the Chief of Army Staff, Gen Bikram Singh. All defence attaches (DAs) and ambassadors are invited and in the past, the Pakistan ambassador and DA were received as honoured guests. Today, however, they were not present.
The air was frosty and brittle, and this was evident in the PM’s clipped tones when asked about the government’s decision to put on hold a visa-on-arrival scheme for Pakistan’s elderly citizens. This was one of the first casualties of the tension between India and Pakistan on the LoC.
When pointed out that Pakistan was in a denial mode on the cross-LoC attack, the Prime Minister said, “We will keep trying.” Asked about the options vis-à-vis Pakistan, he said these cannot be discussed in the open.
The visa on arrival facility for Pakistani nationals above 65 years was supposed to start today at the Attari Integrated Check Post (ICP) under the agreement between India and Pakistan signed in September 2012 to ease cross-border travel, as part of Confidence Building Measures.
Some clauses of the relaxed visa regime like multiple-entry and reporting-free visas for business people and allowing them to visit five cities instead of the earlier three were operationalised when Pakistan's interior minister, Rehman Malik, visited Delhi on December 14-16, 2012.
No new date has been fixed for operationalisation of the visa on arrival facility to Pakistan senior citizens.
But it was equally clear the government was not interested in raising the ante with Pakistan and would like to tamp down angry domestic voices. National Security Advisor Shiv Shankar Menon met leaders of opposition parties today. Although the government has been in telephonic touch with them, Menon said the government was concerned that one of them was talking about raising the issue of violations of the Geneva Convention at the United Nations, thereby internationalising the issue. This is why the NSA briefed them personally.
The government cautioned against “jingoism”, with Information and Broadcasting Minister Manish Tewari saying “professional armies respect rules of engagement” and “transgressions are surmounted through tactical responses and not driven by jingoism”.
In an apparent disapproval of the Bharatiya Janata Party upping the ante on the issue, Tewari also said, “The mapping of those tactical responses are best left to professionals. It is advisable that jingoism needs to be avoided.”
External Affairs Minister Salman Khurshid said India had taken a “very firm position” on the beheading issue with Pakistan, as the act was “totally unacceptable and barbaric”.