Prime Minister Manmohan Singh finally spoke out today, more than a week after the beheading of an Indian soldier on the Line of Control in Kashmir. He sent a tough message to Pakistan that there can be no “business as usual” till those guilty of the “barbaric act” were punished. His statement is significant given that he has invested a huge amount of personal capital in trying to make peace with Pakistan.
“After this barbaric act, there cannot be business as usual with Pakistan. What happened at the LoC is unacceptable; those who are responsible should be brought to book,” Singh told reporters while speaking on the sidelines of a function to mark Army Day.
Whether anyone is listening in Pakistan is an open question, for that country is now in the midst of internal turmoil, with the Supreme Court asking for the arrest of the Prime Minister and a populist Sufi cleric drawing crowds in Islamabad against the government.
Manmohan Singh's statement came hours after he sent the National Security Advisor to brief the two Leaders of the Opposition, Sushma Swaraj and Arun Jaitley, over continued LoC violations and the killing of Indian soldiers that had altered the strategic equation. The BJP has been demanding that India review the level of engagement with Pakistan by drawing a firm red line in the sand on what is acceptable.
The PM's statement comes on a day when the external affairs ministry delayed the operationalisation of the visa-on-arrival scheme for senior citizens. This was to come into effect from today. Nine Pakistani hockey players who were to take part in the Indian Hockey League were asked to return home. The Shiv Sena had taken an aggressive political line that it would not allow any Pakistani player to play in Mumbai after the beheading incident at the LoC.
The army brass have been talking to the media to open a dialogue with the public since yesterday. If Chief of Army Staff General Bikram Singh talked tough yesterday, today it was the turn of Northern Command chief Lt Gen KT Parnaik to send a message across that the “Indian army did not believe in reacting in haste and anger. It has a plan and will act accordingly.”
Top functionaries in the government were unhappy with the Pakistani response at the brigadier-level flag meeting at the LoC yesterday, and fresh violations of the ceasefire were noted after the meeting. It was thus no coincidence that a series of measures were announced today to go slow on the peace process.
After the Prime Minister's message, the peace process is bound to take a hit. In any case, the internal situation in Pakistan has become worse with what is called a “judicial coup,” where the Supreme Court has called for the arrest of Pakistan Prime Minister Raja Parvez Ashraf at a time when Islamic cleric Tahir-ul-Qadri was leading a so-called “million man march” to Islamabad. Qadri has called for the resignation of the government and army support for an interim government, though he claims he is not a proxy for the army.
With the incumbent Pakistani government now in complete turmoil, the dialogue process between the two countries will have wait till there is a more effective government in place, perhaps after the elections.