'Can't be business as usual' with Pakistan: Indian PM

New Delhi (The Statesman/ANN) - Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh yesterday asserted that it could not be "business as usual" with Islamabad in the wake of the "barbaric" beheading of an Indian soldier on the Line of Control in Jammu and Kashmir.

This even as India put on hold the visa-on-arrival facility for senior citizens from the neighbouring country and sent back all nine Pakistani players roped in to play in the ongoing Hockey India League.

India also demanded punishment for those responsible for the killing, saying it was "extremely determined and serious" on this and that ties would not remain unaffected.

In his first public comments on the January 8 incident, in which Pakistani troops crossed the LoC in the Mendhar area of J&K and killed two Indian soldiers, beheading one and mutilating the body of the other, the PM stressed that "those responsible for this crime will have to be brought to book", and expressed hope that "Pakistan realises this".

Singh also justified the decision to suspend visa-on-arrival facility for elderly Pakistani citizens, saying: "After this barbaric act, there cannot be business as usual with Pakistan."

The PM was responding to reporters' questions at the Army Day reception in the capital. When it was pointed out that Pakistan was in denial mode on the cross-LoC attack, the PM said, "We will keep trying."

Asked about options available to the government to deal with the situation, Singh said such sensitive matters could not be discussed openly.

The PM subsequently called on President Pranab Mukherjee and briefed him on the situation. Singh also deputed National Security Adviser Shivshankar Menon to brief Leaders of Opposition in Parliament, Sushma Swaraj and Arun Jaitley.

New Delhi also put on hold indefinitely the operationalisation of the long-delayed visa-on-arrival facility to senior citizens of Pakistan, which started yesterday.

The facility, meant for people above 65 years, or children below 12 years, crossing the Attari-Wagah border on foot, is part of the new liberalised visa agreement between India and Pakistan signed in September 2012 to ease cross-border travel.

Although Union home secretary R K Singh claimed the facility could not be launched today as there were some technical issues, it was evident that the Indo-Pak tension along the LoC was the key reason for deferring it. No new date has been fixed for operationalisation of the facility.

The LoC tension also spilled on to the sporting arena with a rattled Hockey India deciding to send back all the nine Pakistani players taking part in the inaugural edition of its high-profile hockey league.

Cricket was also not spared. Fearing trouble due to Pakistani players' presence in the upcoming Women's World Cup in Mumbai, 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 BJP (Indian People's Party) and the Congress kept up an exchange of fire over the developments. "The fact that it has taken so long for PM to react makes me wonder if today's reaction is out of conviction or out of compulsion. I hope this marks the burial of the Sharm-al-Sheikh (soft) line," Jaitley said.

Both the Congress and the government criticised Swaraj for her remark yesterday, when she had said: "If Pakistan does not return the head of martyred soldier Hemraj, India should get at least 10 heads from the other side."

"On such sensitive matters, the BJP should not play politics. Such remarks are not appropriate at a time when public sentiments are inflamed," said Congress spokesman Rashid Alvi.

COPYRIGHT: ASIA NEWS NETWORK

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