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Recent violence threatens peace efforts

Opposition leaders call for tough stand on beheading of two Indian border soldiers

Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh with former Prime Minister of Pakistan Yousuf Raza Gilani during a state visit Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh with former Prime Minister of Pakistan Yousuf Raza Gilani during a state visit
  • Swati Deb, New Delhi
  • India
  • January 11, 2013
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Increasing tensions between India and Pakistan spurred by the killing of two Indian border soldiers last week have imperiled ongoing peace negotiations and progress on bilateral trade, Indian officials said.

Mohan Singh of the socialist Samajwadi Party said good relations among parliamentarians from both countries have always been key to successful negotiations.

“Vision, ambition and goodwill between people from both sides decides [the quality of] India-Pakistan relations,” Singh told ucanews.com.

“But the latest tension is uncalled for.”

Relations have taken another turn for the worse in the wake of the killing of two Indian soldiers by Pakistani troops on January 8, with one of the soldiers allegedly beheaded.

Pakistan has called for a probe of the incident by the United Nations Military Observer Group in India and Pakistan, a move that India has rejected.

“We are certainly not going to agree to internationalize the issue or allow the United Nations to hold an inquiry. That demand is obviously rejected out of hand,” said P. Chidambaram, federal finance minister, at a media press conference following a cabinet meeting this week.

Further damaging relations, reports emerged that Pakistani troops today violated the ceasefire across the Line of Control in Kashmir by allegedly opening fire on Indian outposts in the Poonch and Mendhar sectors. 

Recent events have dampened hope of a strengthening of bilateral trade following a new visa agreement inked in September last year and implemented in December, by which the previous trade volume of about US$2.5 billion was expected to increase two-fold within a year.

“The worst impact [of border tension] is trade and business,” said Vikramjit Singh Sahney, president of the Chamber of Commerce for the South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation.

Lawmaker S.K. Saidul Haque said last year’s visa agreement was “groundbreaking and replaced a four decade-old restrictive visa agreement.”

But Haque, who traveled to Pakistan last year as a member of a parliamentary delegation promoting peace, told ucanews.com that part of the new agreement aimed at enhancing person-to-person contact in addition to increasing trade. 

The agreement, signed by then Indian External Affairs Minister S.M. Krishna and Pakistani Interior Minister Rehman Malik, granted multiple-entry visas for business people and included provisions for tour groups traveling through registered agencies and extended visa lengths from 30 days to six months.

Some opposition lawmakers have criticized the Indian government for what they say is a weak response to recent violence.

Sushma Swaraj, the opposition leader in the parliament, said she has urged a tougher response to Line of Control violations in Kashmir, claiming there had been 72 such ceasefire violations last year.

“We have a very weak government in the country,” she said. 

But the government maintains that despite recent events, it remains sincere in its desire for peace talks and harmonious relations with Pakistan.

“We have to be careful that forces attempting to derail all the good work are not successful,” said Salman Khurshid, federal external affairs minister, who added that the mutilation of Indian soldiers in Kashmir was nonetheless “barbaric”.

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