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Unasked questions

The killing of five Indian soldiers on the Line of Control (LoC) is abominable. It’s also unforgiveable. There can be no contrary view about this. Karan Thapar writes.

columns Updated: Aug 17, 2013 22:37 IST
Karan Thapar
Karan Thapar
Hindustan Times
LoC,ceasefire violations,Opposition

The killing of five Indian soldiers on the Line of Control (LoC) is abominable. It’s also unforgiveable. There can be no contrary view about this.

However we should have answered two questions before allowing the Opposition and sections of the media to whip us into an unthinking froth. Sadly, they weren’t even asked.

The first question is straightforward. Did the killings happen out of the blue or were they part of a depressing but continuing chain of action and reaction on the LoC? We responded as if the five murders are inexplicable and without context. But that’s not so.

The killings happened early on August 6. A week earlier, on July 28, the Pakistani newspaper Express Tribune and our own claimed that five villagers from the Pakistan side of the LoC were kidnapped by the Indian Army and then, subsequently, mysteriously found dead. A week before the Pakistani government claimed one of its soldiers, Asim Iqbal, had been killed by firing from the Indian side and another seriously injured.

I have little doubt this dreadful chain extends backwards not just weeks and months but literally years. Maybe even decades. It also extends forwards. Pakistan claims two of its soldiers were shot and critically injured after August 6. In turn they shot and injured at least one of ours.

So the first lesson we should have borne in mind is that dreadful things happen on the LoC and both sides are perpetrators as well as victims. Of course, on each occasion innocent soldiers are killed and their death is unforgiveable. But we can’t claim greater moral stature nor condemn the Pakistanis as cold-blooded killers.

The second question was less straightforward. But it was an obvious one to ask. Were the killings an attempt to sabotage the proposed talks and the meeting between our prime ministers?

Shahryar Khan, a former Pakistani foreign secretary and now Nawaz Sharif’s Special Envoy, has little doubt: “Our extremists have done it … it’s meant to derail the peace process.” This was one comment he didn’t retract.

Two obvious suspects are the Lashkar-e-Taiba and Jaish-e-Mohammed. But they are not the only ones. Fingers of suspicion could also point at elements of the Pakistan Army and the ISI.

In May and June, when Nawaz Sharif began reaching out to India, it was widely reported General Ashfaq Parvez Kayani warned him against making such overtures. So is it just a coincidence that, thereafter, we’ve seen a spate of aggressive activity on the LoC? Or was this an attempt by the Pakistan Army to thwart its new prime minister?

For some this is just outlandish speculation. Not Salman Khurshid. He says it’s “a plausible theory”.

So, was AK Antony correct when, in his first statement, he blamed the killings on “approximately 20 terrorists along with some persons dressed in Pakistani Army uniforms”? Possibly. It’s just that by stopping there and not going further he seemed to exculpate the Pakistani State. Had he added the following sentence from his second statement few would have disagreed: “We all know that nothing happens from the Pakistan side of the LoC without support, assistance, facilitation and, often, direct involvement of the Pakistan Army.”

Mr Antony must rue the infelicitous brevity of his first statement. It added to our wrath. But we need to ponder over the questions we failed to ask. Their answers could have contained our rage and ensured a more mature response.

Views expressed by the author are personal

First Published: Aug 17, 2013 22:02 IST