LoC tension: PM talks tough, visa facility put on hold

NEW DELHI, Jan 15:
The tension on Line of Control today brimmed over as India put on hold the visa-on-arrival facility for senior citizens of Pakistan and sent back home all its nine hockey players amid tough talk by Prime Minister Dr Manmohan Singh that it cannot be “business as usual”.
The Indian action came amidst rising anger among political parties over the barbaric beheading of an Indian soldier and mutilation of the body of another jawan by Pakistan and demands for tough action.
In his first public remarks on the issue, the Prime Minister justified the Government’s action, saying “after this barbaric act, there cannot be business as ususal with Pakistan”.
He emphasised that “Those responsible for this crime will have to be brought to book” and hoped “Pakistan realises this”.
When pointed out that Pakistan was in a denial mode on the cross-LoC attack, Singh said, “we will keep trying”.
India was to operationalise the long-delayed visa-on- arrival facility to senior citizens of Pakistan today but quietly put it on hold indefinitely. The facility was to be accorded for those above 65 years crossing the Attari-Wagah border by foot.
Government sources said the decision was taken after several agencies sought clarifications on facilities to be offered to the Pakistani citizens.
The visa on arrival facility under the new visa agreement between India and Pakistan signed in September 2012 to ease cross-border travel as part of Confidence Building Measures (CBM).
No new date has been fixed for operationalisation of the visa on arrival facility to the Pakistani senior citizens.
“We will take a decision at an appropriate time,” Union Home Secretary R K Singh told.
The simmering border tension also spilled over to the sporting arena with a rattled Hockey India deciding to send back all the nine Pakistani players taking part in its high-profile league.
With an apparent nudge from the Government and in the midst of threatened protests by right-wing elements, Hockey India took the decision to send back the Pakistani players considering the “extra-ordinary circumstances”.
“After discussion with all the stakeholders, the Hockey India and Pakistan Hockey Federation have mutually decided to send them (Pakistan players) back due to an extra-ordinary situation which has arisen,” Hockey India secretary general Narinder Batra told reporters here.
Cricket was also not spared. Fearing trouble due to Pakistani players’ presence in the upcoming Women’s World Cup in the city, the BCCI has left it on the International Cricket Council to take a final call on the venues for the team from across the border.
The matter was discussed at the Board’s all-powerful Working Committee and it was decided to convey to the ICC the situation prevailing in the country.
BCCI President N Srinivasan said the issue was now for the ICC to decide.
The Prime Minister, who was responding to reporters’ questions here at the Army Day reception hosted by Army chief Gen Bikram Singh, refused to discuss options vis-a-vis Pakistan when asked about it.
External Affairs Minister Salman Khurshid said India has taken a “very firm position” on the beheading issue with Pakistan as the act is “totally unacceptable and barbaric”.
Referring to yesterday’s Flag Meeting between India and Pakistan on the LoC, he said, “we may not be happy with the outcome but the process is still on.”
He indicated that the incident would have impact on the bilateral engagement with Pakistan although there would not be total freeze.
The incident would be factored in while scheduling meetings etc, the External Affairs Minister said.
On the Government’s decision to put visa-on-arrival on hold, Khurshid said it has not been called off but only deferred. “Nobody has utilised it as yet,” he added.
Asked whether India has set any timeline for Pakistan to act, Khurshid said, “there is no timeline. But we are actually pressing (Pakistan) very hard.” (PTI)
Meanwhile, India demanded punishment for those responsible for the barbaric killing of two Indian soldiers by Pakistanis along the Line of Control, insisting that it was “extremely determined and serious” on this and that ties would not remain unaffected.
Shortly after the Prime Minister’s tough comments that “those responsible for this crime will have to be brought to book” and hoped “Pakistan realises this”, External Affairs Minister Salman Khurshid read out an official statement, threatening that it should not be felt that “brazen denial” by Pakistan on this incident will be ignored and that bilateral relations could be unaffected.
“I think specifics of what might be necessary or found useful are decisions that will be taken as we move forward. At present, we feel that it is important that convergence of similar point of view on behalf of the Government reflects the large section of our public opinion.
“Let it be known to everyone here and across the border that we are extremely determined and serious in this concern of ours and we have resorted to all such instruments and all such methods that are available to us at this time,” Khurshid said when asked about what tangibles were India looking at from Pakistan.
“It should not be felt that the brazen denial and the lack of a proper response from the government of Pakistan to our repeated demarches on this incident will be ignored and that bilateral relations could be unaffected or that there will be business as usual.
“Such actions by the Pakistan Army, which are in contravention of all norms of international conduct, not only constitute a grave provocation but lead us to draw appropriate conclusions about Pakistan’s seriousness in pursuing normalisation of relations with India,” the statement said. (PTI)

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