Six days after an apparent thaw in ties brought about by talks between prime ministers Narendra Modi and Nawaz Sharif, India warned Pakistan of a “forceful and effective response” as it protested ceasefire violations along the Line of Control and international border — but kept the door open for talks.
Islamabad, in turn, summoned Indian high commissioner TCA Raghavan on Thursday to protest what it termed “airspace violations and unabated ceasefire provocations”, a day after it claimed to have shot down an ‘Indian’ drone. New Delhi denied the charge.
“We remain committed to steps that ensure peace and tranquility along our 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,” foreign secretary Subrahmanyam Jaishankar said.
Pakistan’s foreign office too clarified that it remained committed to the joint statement issued by India and Pakistan in the Russian city of Ufa under which the NSAs of the two sides will meet soon.
The media briefing by Jaishankar came after a high-level meeting between foreign minister Sushma Swaraj, home minister Rajnath Singh, defence minister Manohar Parrikar and national security adviser Ajit Doval, and intense parleys between the two neighbours.
Days after the meeting between Modi and his Pakistani counterpart Sharif in Russia's Ufa, tension between the countries has escalated with both sides blaming each other for repeated ceasefire violations and heavy firing along the border. There have been at least six violations of the 2003 ceasefire by Pakistan in the past four days.
The recent escalation in border violence over the last two days has claimed a life in Jammu while Pakistan has said five of its civilians have also been killed.
The latest finger-pointing has led to the view within official circles that the Pakistani army may be upping the ante because the crucial ‘K’ word was not mentioned in the Ufa joint statement.
Responding to photographs released by Pakistan of the ‘Indian’ drone it claimed to have shot down, the foreign secretary said, “The picture of the drone shows it’s not of Indian design or available in the Indian armed forces’ inventory. It appears to be of Chinese design.”
"At the moment, the issue for us is stabilising the border," Jaishankar said, even as Pakistan insisted the "spy drone" belonged to India and it entered that country’s airspace violating international law and its territorial integrity.
Observing that nature of unprovoked firing by Pakistan was "serious", Jaishankar said there were series of consultations between officials of the two sides.
Asked if 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."
Jaishankar evaded questions on whether the cross-border firing will affect talks between the two countries and PM Modi's proposed visit to Islamabad in 2016.
Before Jaishankar’s tough talk, India had chosen to exercise restraint when three days after the Ufa meeting, Sharif aide Sartaj Aziz said there could be no talks unless Kashmir was on the agenda. India had then ascribed his comments to “domestic compulsions”.
Thursday’s briefing by the foreign secretary came after several phone calls following the escalation in border violence. “The national security adviser spoke to the Pakistan envoy twice yesterday (Wednesday) and once today (Thursday) on the border situation,” Jaishankar said, also confirming reports that Pakistani high commissioner Abdul Basit was clearly briefed about India’s stand. Basit had reportedly told Doval that India had initiated the firing.
Indian authorities dismissed this charge, saying soldiers had been forced to take counter-measures after an escalation by Pakistani border troops on Thursday.
The latest border skirmish started two days before PM Modi’s scheduled visit to Jammu on Friday. Pakistan providing cover fire to militants infiltrating into Kashmir ahead of important visits is not uncommon.