Govt wakes up to engage media, BJP on LoC issues
The government and the army did well to start engaging the media and the political opposition in order to control the damage caused by misinformation on what's going on at the LoC
Realising that silence is causing damage, the government has begun to engage the media on what's going on at the Line of Control (LoC), where recent Pakistani violations ended up stoking public anger after it became known that one of the two Indian soldiers killed was beheaded.
Pakistan is clearly not bothered about the Indian authorities' message that the Pakistani Army's provocations along the Line of Control (LoC) in Kashmir are “unacceptable and unpardonable”. So much so that Pakistani troops opened fire at an Indian post in Uri sector even while Indian Army chief General Bikram Singh was briefing the media in New Delhi yesterday. There were also three more instances of firing and mortar shelling after the flag meeting between the commanders of the Indian and Pakistani armies took place yesterday afternoon.
Pakistan's bluffing on the the issue, beginning from 6 January, when they suffered casualties in Uri near Churunda village, was highlighted today by the General Officer Commanding, Northern Command, Lt Gen KT Parnaik. He talked tough and hinted that the Army had its own plan to deal with Pakistan. "The Indian army does not react in haste and anger. We have a plan and act according to that.” His detailed briefing of the situation along the LoC, with maps and pictures of the spot where Pakistan had been consistently violating the ceasefire in order to push infiltrators across, came just a day after the Army Chief held a media briefing and made a subsequent address to the nation on Army Day today.
The Indian Army brass, who had remained silent for over a week since 8 January when two Indian soldiers were killed and Lance Naik Hemraj Singh was beheaded, allegedly by Pakistani Army regulars, have finally started engaging the public through the media. They want to dispel the impression that India is a soft state that will accept any amount of insult and abuse from Pakistan. There was a great deal of popular disquiet after the low-key initial response by top functionaries in the government on the beheading led to a lot of jingoist rhetoric on some channels. External Affairs Minister Salman Khurshid did not help matters by saying that the situation must not be escalated as the government’s inclination was to let the peace process continue despite the provocations.
The government also sought to engage the opposition parties after it was criticised by the BJP, which called the Manmohan Singh government weak in dealing with Pakistan. Hours after Leader of the Opposition Sushma Swaraj called for tough action (“if his - Hemraj’s - head could not be brought back, we should get at least 10 heads from their side”), the Prime Minister spoke to her and sent National Security Advisor (NSA) Shiv Shankar Menon today morning to brief her and her Rajya Sabha counterpart Arun Jaitley. “The question is will we sit without any reaction and engage in a dialogue? This should not happen. At least the government should react in some way. That is why we have said the government should take some tough measures,” she had said yesterday while visiting Lance Naik Hemraj Singh's village with her party colleagues Rajnath Singh and Nitin Gadkari.
While both the government and BJP leaders decided not to reveal what transpired at the NSA briefing on the LoC situation and India's possible response, sources said the BJP conveyed its uneasiness with the government's reluctance to deal firmly with Pakistan on the issue and asked for a review of several engagements. The BJP has upped the ante on the issue with former External Affairs Minister Yashwant Sinha suggesting that there were many strong measures which the government could take to deal with Pakistan without actually going to war.
The government's decision to engage, both at the level of senior army officers and the NSA, is a good move since it will lower the level of opposition rhetoric on the issue. Conflict at any level with Pakistan turns into an emotive issue. Even though India sees Pakistan as the aggressor in this case, Pakistan has been briefing foreign envoys on the matter. Lt Gen Parnaik’s briefing, in that sense, was important to counter the effects of Pakistani propaganda.
He said that “Pakistan's bluff needed to be called" since they were "fabricating their stories”. The origin of the Pakistani action was, as suggested in some media reports, a reaction to the Indian army’s firing and killing of two soldiers from the other side, and the construction of bunkers by the Indian side on the LoC near Churunda village in Uri.
Parnaik's argument was that the army had built no concrete structures but since the area was a hotbed of infiltration and there was consistent firing by the Pakistani Army to cover infiltrators crossing over, the Indian Army had converted a house into an observation post and built small trenches for troop movement. Like the Army Chief yesterday, he suggested that the movement of Indian soldiers in the open would have been too risky and thus the trenches and observation posts were necessary. These actions ensured a virtual check on infiltration from Pakistan, which was frustrating the Pakistanis.
The army had done its homework for today, and released photographs of Pakistani soldiers taking bodies of their colleagues. A tactical move, necessitated by Pakistan’s continued misinformation that the Indian Army had crossed the LoC on 6 January and killed their jawan.
The Indian Army has indicated that they will respond effectively, but crossing the LoC is simply not permitted. The line is sacrosanct for them.