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All disquiet on the western front

For its own good, Pakistan should explain why its army suddenly decided to forego a four-year ceasefire...

india Updated: Jul 31, 2008 20:46 IST

Terror attacks from across the border, especially before big-ticket events like the Saarc summit, have been par for the course in India-Pakistan relations.

But when Pakistani troops intrude into Indian territory and kill a jawan in what appears to be an unprovoked act, the issue assumes serious proportions. With the Indian Army retaliating by killing four Pakistani soldiers, we can assume that the ceasefire agreement that has held since November 2003 is no longer operational.

The battery of experts on India-Pakistan relations are hard put to explain why the Pakistani Army would conduct something so provocative at this moment in time. This when Foreign Minister- and Foreign Secretary-level talks have reiterated the commitment to keep the border as free of tension as possible.

The incident raises worrying questions. The civilian government in Pakistan has made it clear that it wishes to pursue better relations with India. Unlike the Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) that seems to be a law unto itself, the Pakistani army, we can only assume, takes its orders from the government of the day.

If so, the firing incident goes against the grain of Islamabad’s proclaimed policy of improving ties. It could well be that some sections of the army thought that in the aftermath of the terror attacks in Karnataka and Gujarat, a border skirmish would increase pressure on India. But to what end? This is what is baffling everyone.

Fortunately, unlike in the past, army commanders of both sides have met and assurances were made that calm would be restored. From Pakistan’s point of view, opening up a front with India is the last thing it needs when it is under scrutiny by the US for its alleged collusion with jehadis.

This explains the cold shoulder treatment given to Prime Minister Yousaf Raza Gilani, currently on a visit to the US. The Pakistani government, already under siege thanks to the ISI’s support to the jehadis, cannot afford to be seen as losing control of the army as well. Unless it gets to the bottom of this incident, its already tarnished image will take a further beating.