Edit: It's not the right time for PM-Sharif talks


Defence minister A.K. Antony has recanted his statement in just 48 hours. Following Tuesday's killing of five Indian soldiers on our side of the LoC, Antony's statement in Parliament had spoken of “men wearing Pakistan Army uniforms“. That had kicked up an uproar. The Opposition thought that the government was giving Islamabad an easy ride so that the prospective talks between the Prime Ministers of the two countries during the UN General Assembly session in September was not compromised.
Such was the whiplash in Parliament that Antony was compelled to change his tune by Thursday. He pointedly noted that Tuesday's ambush was the work of a special unit of the Pakistan Army and an outfit based in PoK, indicating that nothing happens in Pakistan without the direction of its Army. The incident would have an impact on India-Pakistan relations, and also on India's attitude to developments on the LoC, Antony observed.
Evidently such a drastic change in outlook is linked to the government's desire to be on the side of public opinion in the run-up to the LS elections, and is likely to have been the consequence of the Congress party's pressure, as indicated by Sonia Gandhi's sharp reaction to the killing of our soldiers.
It is not a little surprising that the government was found wanting in factoring in the public mood to begin with. The Opposition, in contrast, has shown maturity. While it was on the attack with the word “go“, on Thursday Sushma Swaraj, Leader of the Opposition in the Lok Sabha, said the whole country stood with the government on the Pakistan question.
It appears the government has done some hard background work with the principal Opposition party and persuaded it not to insist that the proposed September talks with Pakistan Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif be cancelled even after the defence minister's somersault. Even so, it might be in the fitness of things if the government gave some sign of understanding the sense of injury among the people regarding the beheading of Indian soldiers in January and the killing of five jawans this week.
Sharif's observation on Thursday that both his country and India needed to take effective steps to avoid incidents on the LoC, and his invitation to New Delhi to engage with his government, is intended to salvage the September talks, but it equates the aggressor with the attacked. Dr Singh needs to find a way to avoid the meeting, and instead find ways to engage at a lower level.

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