India toughened its stance sharply against Pakistan on Tuesday, suspending an easier visa regime for visitors from across the border and asking their hockey players to leave the country as Prime Minister Manmohan Singh delivered a stern warning.
“After this barbaric act, there can’t be business as usual with Pakistan,” the normally dovish PM said, breaking his silence on the murder of two Indian soldiers by the Pakistan army.
He was speaking after the government decided, at the last minute, to put on hold a scheme to issue visas on arrival for elderly Pakistanis. The new visa regime is touted as the most tangible outcome of the peace process resumed in 2010.
Singh’s words, and the visa move, suggest that the government is beginning to echo the belligerence of its armed forces.
Talking to journalists at a reception hosted by army chief General Bikram Singh to mark Army Day, the PM said those responsible for the crime would have to be brought to book.
The PM also briefed President Pranab Mukherjee on the developments. India alleges Pakistan crossed the Line of Control and mutilated the bodies of the soldiers it killed, decamping with the head of one of them.
The attack has provoked fury in India, with opposition leader Sushma Swaraj calling for 10 Pakistani heads in response, and the army vowing to retaliate at a time and place of its choosing.
At 8.15pm firing started at Mendhar sector, the place where the two jawans were killed. Exchange of fire across the border has been a feature of the past week.
External affairs minister Salman Khurshid told a news conference that the Pakistan Army's actions constituted "grave provocation and lead us to draw conclusions about Pakistan's seriousness in pursing normalisation of relations with India." At a time when the most crucial confidence building measure (CBM) between the two countries — the November 2003 ceasefire — has come under strain, the fate of other CBMs such as cross-border trade, travel and sports hangs in the balance.
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The Indian Hockey League said nine Pakistani players would be asked to return to their country. The Indian cricket board may shift a match the Pakistan women's cricket team is due to play in the women's world cup in Mumbai, a stronghold of the right-wing Shiv Sena.
Pakistan, for its part, may call off its commerce minister's visit to India on January 27.