The terror attack in Punjab on Monday could deepen the mistrust in Indo-Pakistan relations, which saw signs of reconciliation after Prime Minister Narendra Modi met his Pakistani counterpart Nawaz Sharif in the Russian city of Ufa this month.
The Modi government warned unprovoked actions, such cross-border terrorism, would get a befitting reply, although it was still committed to cordial ties with Pakistan “in the spirit of the Ufa meeting”.
The attack came at a time national security advisers of the two countries were scheduled to meet in New Delhi, which was decided at Modi and Sharif’s Ufa engagement.
New Delhi treaded with caution about the future of talks as any evidence of the three terrorists getting support from Pakistan would completely jeopardise the Ufa bonhomie.
Home minister Rajnath Singh articulated New Delhi’s dilemma. “I cannot understand why time and again cross-border terror incidents are taking place when we want good relations with our neighbour (Pakistan). I want to tell our neighbour that we want peace but not at the cost of our national pride.”
The NDA government used high-level diplomacy not to scuttle the Ufa initiative, which was swiftly followed by a flare-up in violence along the border in Jammu and Kashmir.
Both neighbours accused each other of ceasefire violations and civilian deaths, but the Modi government doused the fire by avoiding any political posturing. It did issue a stern warming to Islamabad that unprovoked firing and cross-border terrorism would be “effectively and forcefully” dealt with.
Modi was keen on improving perennially difficult relations with Pakistan as he focused on the big picture: the security scenario in South Asia.
To avoid sending wrong signals to Islamabad, he barred anti-Pakistan hardliners within the ruling alliance from making any reckless statement about the neighbour.
The deadliest terror strike in Punjab in more than 13 years since the end of the Khalistan movement for a separate Sikh nation not only cast a shadow on scheduled counter-terrorism talks, but also resumption of Indo-Pakistan cricket ties.
There were talks about resumption of bilateral cricket ties between the two nations at the end of this year, but BCCI secretary and BJP leader Anurag Thakur said it might not be possible under such circumstances. “When you see attacks on India time and again, the Jammu region and now Punjab where Indians are losing lives … as an Indian I don't see a possibility to that,” he told a TV channel.
The provocation came from reports that the three heavily-armed gunmen involved in the attack were from Pakistan, who had entered Punjab after sneaking into Jammu and Kashmir under covering fire from Pakistani troops.
“We are piecing together various intelligence inputs. The terrorist came from Pakistan,” said an official.He said terrorists of the Pakistan-based Lashkar-e-Taiba (LeT) group, which is responsible for the 26/11 Mumbai terror attacks, might have entered Punjab because of heightened security in the Jammu sector.