New Delhi: In his first direct comments on the tension with Pakistan at the Line of Control in Kashmir, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh today told NDTV that in the present situation there "cannot be business as usual with Pakistan" and that the future of the peace process now depends on Pakistan taking appropriate steps.
Referring to the mutilation of the bodies of two Indian soldiers killed in firing by Pakistani troops last week, Dr Singh said, "After this dastardly act, there can't be business as usual with Pakistan. Those who are responsible for this must be brought to book. I hope Pakistan realises this." He indicated that the government will make a statement today.
Soon after the PM's strong comments, Exernal Affairs Minister Salman Khurshid used the very same words in a short statement. "The government has deplored this grave provocation ... and called on the government of Pakistan to (order) a proper investigation into this unacceptable action," the statement said.(Read: Full Statement)
The Prime Minister also met President Pranab Mukherjee this evening and apprised him of the developments.
The government's tough statements came on a day when India deferred the process of issuing visas on arrival to Pakistani senior citizens at Wagah and a decision was taken to send back nine Pakistani players who were in India to play in the inaugural Hockey India League tournament. Also, sources said, Pakistan's women's cricket team is now unlikely to travel to India for the World Cup later this month. (LoC tension hits India-Pakistan sporting ties)
Sources say that India will play it by the ear depending on Pakistan's response, and that the internal political turmoil in Pakistan is also likely to be a factor. There is uncertainty over the meeting between the commerce ministers of both sides that was scheduled for the end of this month.
Today, the PM also sent his National Security Advisor Shiv Shankar Menon to brief senior BJP leaders Sushma Swaraj and Arun Jaitley at Ms Swaraj's residence on the situation with Pakistan. The BJP has asked the government to take a tough stand against Pakistan and wanted an immediate review of engagement at all levels. The PM had called up Ms Swaraj and Mr Jaitley yesterday and assured them that the government would keep them in the loop.
The government's efforts today, sources said, are aimed at ensuring political consensus.
Reacting to the PM's statement, Ms Swaraj said this evening, "From the Prime Minister's statement it seems we were able to convey the nation's mood to the government during the meet with the National Security Advisor." She added that the statement indicated the government's "tough stand."
Earlier in the day, Government officials cited technical reasons for the visa delay, but there was immediate speculation on whether the sudden move was linked to the tension with Pakistan. Mr Khurshid stressed that the new visa hadn't been "called off, but deferred." Visa on arrival for Pakistanis over 65 years of age is part of the liberalised visa agreement signed between India and Pakistan a few months ago. (Read)
Mr Khurshid said that India was not happy with the outcome of a brigadier-level flag meeting between the Indian and Pakistani armies in the Poonch sector of Kashmir yesterday, where India had lodged a strong protest against ceasefire violations by Pakistan along the Line of Control (LoC) and also expressed concern at the barbaric way Pakistani troops treated the bodies of the Indian soldiers. The Army said the Pakistani side denied all charges and was "adamant and arrogant" in its attitude, despite India giving them photographic evidence of mines placed by Pakistani troops in Indian territory.
There have been at least five violations of the ceasefire since yesterday's flag meeting - the latest incident being reported from Mendhar at around 8:00 pm this evening. (10 latest developments)
The tension on the LoC also spilled out on to the sporting field, with Hockey India deciding to send back nine Pakistani players who were signed up to play in different teams of the inaugural Hockey India League tournament. This after protests by political outfits on Delhi and Mumbai against the players being allowed to play in India after the recent cease-fire violations Pakistan and the barbaric way that Pakistani troops treated the bodies of the two Indian soldiers.
Hockey India chief Narendra Batra said, "Hockey India and Pakistan Hockey federation have mutually decided that all the franchisee be allowed to exercise their right for replacement in regard to the nine Pakistani players." (Watch)
The Board of Control for Cricket in India (BCCI) too has written to the International Cricket Council or ICC voicing concern over security for the Pakistan cricket team in the women's World Cup beginning later this month in India. Sources say the Pakistani team is unlikely to travel to India. The ICC is expected to make an announcement to this effect later today
(with inputs from Agencies)