Amid the most intense cross-border firing between India and Pakistan in more than a decade, Prime Minister Narendra Modi is reported to have given security forces a “free hand” in dealing with Pakistani troops, and assured that “everything will be fine soon.”
Nine Pakistani and eight Indian civilians have been slaughtered since fighting erupted more than week ago in the worst case of ceasefire violations since 2003. The two nuclear-armed South Asian neighbours have accused each other of targeting civilians and unprovoked violations of the 11-year-old ceasefire agreement.
The mood has turned sour and belligerent on both sides. India’s Home Minister Rajnath Singh has asked the Border Security Force to return Pakistan’s firing with full force.
Mr Modi, who surprised many by inviting Pakistan’s Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif, along with other leaders of the South Asian countries at his swearing-in ceremony in May, said cryptically: “Everything will be fine.” Modi was speaking to reporters at the IAF chief Air Chief Marshal Arup Saha’s At Home in New Delhi on the occasion of the 82nd Air Force day. His statement seemed to indicate that India will retaliate with full vigour even as Pakistan raised the issue at the UN.
National Security Adviser Ajit Doval met senior defence officials on October 8 to review the situation along the Line of Control.
The relentless firing across the LOC has displaced thousands of residents in border areas and forced them to take shelter in Army camps and other places. The issue has acquired political tones in the wake of imminent assembly elections in a few Indian states, including Haryana.
“Earlier, Pakistan used to start as well end the firing against India. Now Pakistan begins it and India ends it,” BJP chief Amit Shah said at a poll rally in Haryana.
The opposition Congress chose to blame the Centre for escalating tension along the border, with party vice-president Rahul Gandhi attacking the prime minister for not doing anything to stop the deaths on the border despite “many provocations”.
The relations between the estranged South Asian neighbours started off on a hopeful note under the new government in Delhi, but plummeted sharply after New Delhi unilaterally cancelled the foreign secretary-level talks to register protest against the Pakistan’s envoy’s meeting with separatist Kashmiri leaders in August.
The chill in bilateral ties was reflected in Mr Modi’s decision not to meet Mr Sharif on the sidelines of the UN General Assembly in New York last month. In his UNGA speech, Mr Modi made it clear that he was willing to hold talks with Pakistan, but only on the condition that the talks were held without the shadow of terror.
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