Barely a week after the ice-breaking meeting between prime ministers Narendra Modi and Nawaz Sharif in the Russian city of Ufa, tension on the Indo-Pak border escalated rapidly over 36 hours and New Delhi warned Islamabad Thursday of an “effective and forceful” response to unprovoked firing and cross-border terrorism.
National Security Advisor Ajit K Doval spoke to Pakistan High Commissioner Abdul Basit thrice in the last two days, and Foreign Secretary S Jaishankar spoke to Basit once Thursday — a reflection of the high-level attention that incidents of ceasefire violations on the border have warranted.
The Indian High Commissioner in Islamabad, T C A Raghavan, was in touch with the Pakistan Foreign Ministry, and he met Pakistan Foreign Secretary Aizaz Ahsan Chaudhary Thursday morning.
The Pakistan Foreign Ministry said Chaudhary lodged a protest with Raghavan over what it called airspace violation by an Indian UAV in Banchirian sector near Bhimber in Pakistan-occupied Kashmir. “The UAV was brought down by Pakistani troops,” the statement said.
Chaudhary also registered Pakistan’s concern over Indian helicopter manoeuvres near the Line of Control on July 11, calling it “offensive and threatening”.
While it is quite unusual for the NSA to talk to the Pakistan High Commissioner directly since it is the Ministry of External Affairs which usually liaises with the high commission over ceasefire violations, South Block has taken the matter “very seriously” and the Prime Minister’s Office, sources told The Indian Express, is monitoring the situation on an hourly basis.
According to South Block sources, New Delhi’s frustration with the ceasefire violations peaked Wednesday evening after Doval asked Basit around 11.30 am to end the firing on the LoC which had been on since 8.50 am. Indian commanders could not reach their Pakistan counterparts despite calling them four times.
The Pakistani side did not respond despite the NSA calling up again at 5 pm Wednesday. And then Basit called up around 5.30 pm to report the alleged drone incident. At this point, the NSA, sources said, made it clear to Basit that Indian troops would retaliate if the firing continued. Late Wednesday night, Indian forces did retaliate.
On Thursday, after a high-level meeting of Home Minister Rajnath Singh, External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj and Defence Minister Manohar Parrikar in North Block, Jaishankar said: “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.”
Asked whether India will go ahead with its engagement as was decided in Ufa, Jaishankar said: “I think my statement made it very clear. If the intention or the inclination is to strengthen peace and tranquillity on the border and do the meetings that we have agreed to do, we remain committed to that. If, on the other hand, there is unprovoked firing and there is infiltration and cross-border terrorism, then obviously the situation is different. So that choice is not ours.”
On the issue of the alleged downing of a drone, Jaishankar said that 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”.
Asked if the NSA-level talks can be held in such an atmosphere, Jaishankar said, “The dates for the talks have not been decided so far… Therefore, the question of postponing it does not arise.” What was agreed upon was that they would meet in Delhi, he said.
On the meeting between the DGMOs, he said,”What will happen in next few days, I really do not want to predict.” But he said he was “hoping to see return of peace” on the border.
36 hrs and counting
# 8.50 am: Sniper fire from Pak Rangers in Akhnoor sector injures a BSF personnel.
# At 10.15 am, mortar shell fell on Bhalwal Bharath in Akhnoor. Villager killed, three injured.
# Intermittent firing continued in Akhnoor sector till 4.15 pm.
# Pak claims it downed an Indian drone in Bhimber
# Indian forces retaliated at night.
# Infiltration attempt by three suspected militants at Indreshwar Nagar in Jammu sector. Got cover firing from Pakistani post Jamshed.