New Delhi,Rajeev Sharma: India and Pakistan were yet again protagonists of the familiar theatre of the absurd today as both sides indulged in blame game over a sudden uptick in cross-border firing, infiltration and border tensions.
As India and Pakistan continue to throw verbal barbs at each other, two things become clear. One, Prime Minister Narendra Modi has burnt his fingers in reaching out to Pakistan in Ufa, (Russia) and may have to rethink and rework his Pakistan policy. Two, the clout of National Security Advisor Ajit Doval continues to grow and he is the go-to man for PM Modi on all matters of strategic importance, particularly India’s Pakistan policy.
National Security Advisor Ajit Doval. National Security Advisor Ajit Doval.
But I will discuss these twin issues separately. For the time being, let’s focus on how India and Pakistan tensions have ratcheted up in the past 48 hours which, incidentally, would give an idea of the increasing role of NSA Doval in India’s engagement with Pakistan.
The India-Pakistan border tensions and Pakistan’s charge of downing an Indian spy drone in Pakistan-administered territory (vehemently denied by India) quickly became a top news development by Thursday afternoon, warranting three top ministers Rajnath Singh (home), Sushma Swaraj (external affairs) and Manohar Parrikar (defence) to meet.
Besides, Indian high commissioner in Pakistan TCA Raghavan was summoned to the foreign office in Islamabad on Thursday morning while National Security Advisor Ajit Doval and foreign secretary S Jaishankar talked to Pakistan high commissioner in India Abdul Basit separately on Thursday.
The fast-paced developments came on the eve of Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s visit to Jammu. Modi would be on a day-long visit to Jammu on 17 July to attend the birth centenary celebrations of Girdhari Lal Dogra, a late Congress leader and the longest serving finance minister of Jammu and Kashmir who also happens to be the father-in-law of Finance Minister Arun Jaitley.
Later in the evening, foreign secretary Jaishankar addressed a hurriedly called press conference to give India’s version on four specific issues raised by the Pakistan government since yesterday: (i) incidents of 15 July; (ii) incidents of 16 July; (iii) the allegation of downing an Indian drone by Pakistan; and (iv) the allegation pertaining to an Indian helicopter manoeuvre close to the Line of Control (LoC). The foreign secretary’s complete statement to the media can be accessed here.
On the first two points, Jaishankar gave elaborate details of how, where and when the Pakistani side opened fire on Indian positions along the International Boundary and the LoC in the past two days. He made a pointed reference that DIG, BSF, in Jammu sought to make telephonic contact with Pakistan’s Sector Commander Sialkot four times between 1045 hrs and 1230 hours on Thursday but received no response.
Soon thereafter NSA Ajit Doval first spoke to High Commissioner Raghavan in Islamabad at 11.30am asking him to take up the matter with the Pakistani government and then to High Commissioner Abdul Basit in New Delhi seeking an end to firing as well as corrective steps on part of Pakistan.
India sent out a demarche to Pakistan but Islamabad ignored the Indian demarche and continued with the cross-border firing.
On Wednesday evening Pakistan High Commissioner Basit finally got back to NSA Doval conveying that the firing had been initiated by India and that an Indian drone had been brought down by Pakistan. The Pakistani foreign secretary spoke on similar lines when High Commissioner Raghavan contacted him again at that time.
Though this was completely unrelated to maintaining peace and tranquility on the border, Doval offered to check the drone allegation while conveying that India would be retaliating strongly if the Pakistani firing were to continue.
This was followed by an attempt by three suspected terrorists to infiltrate from Pakistani side into India in the wee hours of Thursday in the Jammu sector at Indreshwar Nagar. They were given covering fire by Pakistani post Jamshed. As Indian forces retaliated, the exchange of fire expanded to include some nearby posts. The Pakistani side also resorted to mortar firing to which the Indian troops responded effectively.
In response to Pakistani allegations about an alleged spy drone, this is what Jaishankar said: “The photograph of the drone in question indicates that it is not of Indian design, nor of any UAV category held in the inventory of the Indian armed forces. It appears to be of Chinese design, and is commercially available off the shelf.”
On alleged helicopter manoeuvres by India close to the LoC, the foreign secretary did not deny the development and said this was already taken up and settled through an exchange of hotline messages between local formation Commanders at Tithwal on 12-13 July. “The helicopter flight was in connection with a counter-terrorism operation in which three terrorists were neutralised. The Pakistani side raised the issue of our helicopter flight and we had clarified that it was well within the mutually accepted distances from the LOC in India. That the Pakistani government four days later is raising a controversy on a settled issue speaks for itself.”
Now the question arises whether the upcoming India-Pakistan engagements at the level of NSA, DGMOs and DG BSF/Pakistan Rangers, as enunciated in the India-Pakistan joint statement at Ufa on 10 July, will eventually take place or whether the Modi government would scrap the process which is yet to start.
There is no clarity on that count. But the government is worried over the political attrition that its outreach to Pakistan may cost.
For record’s sake, this is what foreign secretary Jaishankar had to say: “We remain committed to steps that contribute to ensuring peace and tranquility on the border. However, there should be no doubt that any unprovoked firing from the Pakistani side would meet with an effective and forceful response from our forces. Nor will we let down our guard against infiltration and cross-border terrorism.”