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Exclusive: September meet between PM-Sharif on schedule

Last updated on: August 08, 2013 22:25 IST

Nawaz Sharif and Manmohan Singh‘The talks have to go on because we want to know what Nawaz Sharif has in his mind. We want to see how much he can deliver. We want to see if he can wrest back power from the army,’ a senior government official, who deals with Pakistan, tells Sheela Bhatt.

'The prime minister (Manmohan Singh) is sad. He cannot tolerate this like any other Indian. No country can tolerate five coffins of its jawans going to different parts of country,” a senior officer in the government told about the killings of five Indian soldiers in the Pooch sector of Jammu and Kashmir near the Line of Control on Monday.

The officer, who deals with Pakistan, spoke to in an off-the–record conversation. He said that, “The prime minister has things on his mind (about Pakistan). He has a long-term view (to deal with Pakistan.)”

He reiterated that Dr Singh and Pakistan Prime minister Nawaz Sharif’s proposed meeting at the end of September in New York on sidelines of United Nations General Assembly is on schedule.

He explained that, “Pakistan’s economy is in doldrums. It has an internal conflict with the Taliban. It is our neighbour. Better we engage the neighbour who has so many problems. Their issues can affect us as well. The talks have to go on because we want to know what Sharif has in his mind. We want to see how much he can deliver. We want to see if he can wrest back power from the army. The meeting between Dr Singh and Sharif is important. It will help both of them to decide the course of the future.”

When asked about incidents of blatant violations of the mutually agreed cease-fire on the Line of Control, he said, “First of all, Defence Minister A K Antony has been briefed by the army chief on Thursday morning. Now, they have the correct picture due to accurate descriptions given by the lone survivor of the event. The Indian soldier has told his senior officers in Kashmir how 20 people entered Indian territory, how they attacked them, killed five Indian soldiers and daringly went back. This is really troubling that they could come almost half a kilometre into Indian territory.”

The officer, who is neither a hawk nor dove on India’s policy on Pakistan, said, “My heart bleeds to see our jawans’ dead bodies. But, we have to analyse the event professionally. There are two things. One, if it’s straight away a Pakistan army operation then it’s not only a message to New Delhi but also to Islamabad. This is a typical way for the Pakistani army to send a message to the civil government in Islamabad that without involving them fully, the Sharif government must not move further with India on any bilateral issue.

“They may be reminding Sharif that the Afghanistan and India policy of Pakistan is in their domain. If, that’s not the case and if this bloody event is retaliation against Indian soldiers by local groups for some earlier action, then also it is matter of worry for us.  Such violence can’t be carried out without some degree of involvement of the Pakistani army. How can a group of 20 people come into India and sneak back so easily? The entire operation suggests that there is training and skill on part of the attackers.”

The officer said, “Sara mahaul kharab kar diya (They have spoiled the atmospherics).” He was referring to the ongoing back-channel talks with the Sharif government.

He said, “Obviously, the Pakistan army knows everything.” The army knows well the level of back channel talks. He said the civilian government in Pakistan keeps briefing the army on such matters.

When asked why Antony said that the attack was carried out by ‘people dressed in Pakistan army uniforms’, the officer said in Antony’s defence that no government can start blaming another without verifying the facts. “He was being truthful at that point of time.” The officer claimed that the lone survivor’s statement has helped clarify lots of issues and that's why Antony's statement on Thursday is understandably sharper and aggressive. 

When asked if the PM's team trusts Sharif in his latest avatar, the Indian officer categorically said, “We believe Sharif wants to improve relations. He is facing constraints but let us see how things go in September (in New York). He is facing the Taliban in Pakistan. During the election, Sharif’s party was on the right side of the Lashkar-e-Tayiba as we know only Pakistan Peoples Party and others were attacked during the election by the LeT. So now he has to tread carefully while keeping the LeT's sensitivities in mind.

“At all levels, he will need the army’s support. He is a Punjabi and the army has a dominance of Punjabis, but at the same time due to a coup by former army chief Pervez Mushrraf, his relations with the army had soured. So let’s see how things progress.”

In conclusion he said, “Today, the atmosphere is not good. These kinds of killings of our soldiers impact us deeply. No policy-maker can avoid its impact.”

Sheela Bhatt in New Delhi