New Delhi: Under sustained attack from the Opposition over his statement on the killing of five Indian soldiers in Poonch sector in Jammu and Kashmir, Union Defence Minister AK Antony on Thursday made a U-turn and blamed the Pakistan Army for the "brutal" and "unprovoked" act. He also warned Pakistan that the incident will have "consequences" on India's behaviour at the Line of Control and on the relations between the two neighbours.
"It is now clear that the specialist troops of Pakistan Army were involved in this attack when a group from Pakistan-occupied Kashmir (PoK) side crossed the LoC and killed our brave jawans," he said in Parliament.
The new statement from Antony indicting the Pakistan Army was welcomed by the Opposition. "I am thankful to the Defence Minister for correcting his mistake. The BJP was not trying to play politics but was seeking a correction from him. We support his statement that the attack was carried out with the help of the Pakistan Army. We support Antony's statement. The House will in one voice tell Pakistan that they can't take India for granted," Leader of Opposition in the Lok Sabha and Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) MP Sushma Swaraj said.
The BJP had been targeting Antony alleging that he had given a clean chit to Pakistan Army and should apologise for the same. Antony's statement on Tuesday in which he had blamed "terrorists along with persons dressed in Pakistan Army uniform" for the killing of the Indian soldiers had resulted in massive protests with the opposition led by BJP MPs paralysing Parliament for two consecutive days.
The Defence Minister, however, maintained that his statement on Tuesday on the LoC ambush and killings was based on the information available at that time. Since then the Chief of Army Staff has visited the area and gone into the details of the matter, he said.
"We all know that nothing happens from Pakistan side of LoC without support, assistance, facilitation and often, direct involvement of Pakistan Army," Antony said in the Lok Sabha.
The Defence Minister said the "brutal and unprovoked" attack on Indian side of the LoC in Poonch sector of Jammu and Kashmir "outraged us all". Sending out a tough message to Pakistan, he said, "Our restraint should not be taken for granted; nor should the capacity of our armed forces and resolve of the Government to uphold the sanctity of LoC ever be doubted."
"Those in Pakistan who are responsible for this tragedy and the brutal killing of two soldiers earlier this year should not go unpunished. Pakistan should also show determined action to dismantle terrorists' networks, organisations and infrastructure and show tangible movement on bringing those responsible for the Mumbai terrorist attack in November 2008 to justice quickly," he said.
The Pakistani military and Foreign Ministry, however, denied any role in the attack, sources said. The officials denied the incident during a meeting with Pakistani Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif on Thursday where the situation arising of the LoC attack was reviewed.
The future of India-Pakistan was also discussed at the meeting. India-Pakistan relations have taken a hit following the attack on an Indian Army patrol at the LoC near Poonch.
Sharif accompanied by Minister of Information & Broadcasting Pervaiz Rashid visited the Foreign Office where he was briefed on relations with India following the LoC killings.
While the Pakistani Prime Minister expressed his grief at the death of five Indian soldiers, he also reiterated the need to address all outstanding issues with India in a positive and constructive manner.
"Recently tensions have again flared up along the Line of Control and precious lives have been lost. We, are, of course, saddened by these incidents. It is imperative that both Pakistan and India take effective steps to ensure and restore ceasefire on the Line of Control. While existing military to military channels could be more optimally utilized to prevent misunderstanding and not allow the situation to escalate, Pakistan is prepared to discuss steps with India for further strengthening of the existing mechanisms at both the political and military levels," Sharif said.