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Friday, 9 August 2013

From Today's Papers - 09 Aug 2013

Veterans approach SC, seek exemplary punishment for MoD babus

At a time when the sacrifice of valiant men in uniform is yet again under the spotlight, here is one instance the controversy-ridden Ministry of Defence could have done without. Last week, the Retired Defence Officers Association (RDOA) has dragged the top babus of the MoD to the Supreme Court (SC) in a contempt petition over non-payment of dues like pay and pensions. The petition was filed last week and hearing in the same is being awaited.

Those named in the contempt petition include Shashi Kant Sharma, former Defence Secretary and present Comptroller and Auditor General (CAG), Priti Mohanty, current Advisor Defence Finance, Arunava Dutt, former Controller General of Defence Accounts and RS Gujral, currently Secretary in the Finance Ministry's Department of Expenditure.

A copy of the 49-page contempt petition was accessed by this correspondent. The primary grouse, as mentioned by the RDOA pertains to the 'willfull and deliberate disobedience and violation of the Order dated 4.9.12 passed by this Hon'ble Court' it further seeks, 'exemplary punishment to contemnors for deliberate and intentional non-compliance'.

The case, famously known as the Rank Pay case was initiated by Major AK Dhanapalan when he approached the Kerala High Court in 1998 praying that as per Government of India resolution, 'rank pay' was admissible to army officers in addition to their integrated scales. Since this was taking place since 1.1.86 i.e date of implementation of the fourth pay commission, court allowed him re-fixation of his pay from that day without deducting his pay based on rank pay - a practice which was taking place before. Subsequently, MoD lost all appeals and petitions filed before Kerala High Court as well as SC.

Said Group Captain Karan Singh Bhati, advocate for the petitioners, "The court had given them more time than what they sought to rectify this injustice. That lapsed on May 31, 2013 and MoD did not even bother replying to our legal notice on contempt. Thus we had no option." He added, "What is most unfortunate is that the people suppose to ensure that the armed forces are administered well are the ones failing and thus facing contempt."

In fact, using Right to Information (RTI) Act 2005, RDOA sought details from the MoD. In response, the ministry stated that as on June 14, 2013, only 31718 officers from a total pool of 45485 were paid in part, leaving out 13767 officers despite the date for paying all in all respects was May 31, 2013. "We've been forced. From meeting the Defence Minister to writing letters, we did everything but the MoD was simply stonewalling us," said Lt. Col BK Sharma, President of RDOA.

On July 26, Kargil Diwas, defence minister AK Antony had stated, "We are aware of the sensitivity of our men. This issue of Rank Pay has been referred to the Attorney General (AG) for his advice."

After initially reporting on the Air Chief Marshal NAK Browne's repeated persuasion to Defence Minister to implement the SC order of September 2012, Antony had called top-level meeting on June 14 in which it was decided that AG's opinion will be taken on the Rank Pay case. However, on sending the matter to the AG, he passed the buck asking the services to approach him though Law ministry.
Antony now says Pak Army did it
LoC killings Warns neighbour of impact on ties; BJP welcomes statement
Aditi Tandon & Ajay Banerjee
Tribune News Service

New Delhi, August 8
Two days after the killing of five Indian soldiers along the Line of Control (LoC) in Poonch, India today directly blamed the Pakistan Army for the act, warning the neighbour of possible consequences and its impact on relations between the two countries.

Under attack from the BJP for exonerating Pakistan earlier by saying that terrorists in Pak Army uniforms had killed the Indian jawans, Defence Minister AK Antony today came back to Parliament to admit that specialist troops of the Pakistani Army were involved in the attack.

Antony displayed further aggression saying nothing on the Pakistan side of the LoC happened without the support, assistance, facilitation and often the direct involvement of the Pakistan Army.

The Opposition BJP heartily welcomed the statement in the Lok Sabha with Leader of Opposition Sushma Swaraj congratulating the Defence Minister for “rectifying his mistake of diluting India’s stand on the issue”. She later slammed the Congress for blaming the BJP for politicising the matter saying “we were only trying to reveal a serious lapse that has now been corrected. The House is with the government in warning Pakistan on this count”.

The government’s toughness of stand followed exclusive drafting of Antony’s statement by the Ministry of Defence today after he reached his South Block office at 8 am to consult the Army Chief, the Defence Secretary and ministry officials before finalising a politically defining note that he read in the Lok Sabha around noon. The note sharply contrasted the diplomatic statement which the PMO, the MEA and the NSA drafted collectively yesterday.

Antony cautioned Pakistan against taking India’s restraint for granted while clarifying, “When I reported the incident to the House … my statement was based on the available information. Since the Chief of Army Staff has visited the area and gone into details …it is now clear that specialist units of the Pakistan Army were involved in the attack ….We all know nothing happens from Pakistan side of the LoC without the support, assistance, facilitation and often direct involvement of Pak Army.”

The government also used the occasion to ask Pakistan to punish those responsible for the killing of two Indian soldiers earlier this year and show “determined action to dismantle terror networks, organisations and infrastructure besides bringing perpetrators of the November 2008 Mumbai terrorist attacks to justice”.

Reassuring the country on the armed forces’ capacity to guard the borders and the government’s resolve to uphold sanctity of the LoC, Antony cautioned Pakistan: “Naturally this incident will have consequences on our behaviour on the LoC and for our relations with Pak. Our restraint should not be taken for granted.”

Antony’s fresh statement in the LS today matched his public stance on cross-border terrorism and his remarks that nothing on the Pakistan side of LoC happens without the role of Pakistan Army is the stand the Army and intelligence agencies have held for years.

The statement is also closer to Home Ministry’s view on the matter and though it undid most of the damage done yesterday, the Lok Sabha, however, again plunged into chaos after Speaker Meira Kumar disallowed clarifications on the same despite leaders’ requests.

When she pressed with the Zero Hour amid din, BJP’s LK Advani objected sternly, “I have never seen such disorder in the House. No minister from the Treasury is sitting. The PM is not there; the Leader of House is absent; Parliamentary Affairs Minister is missing. Either bring the House to order or adjourn it.” Taking a cue from Advani, the Speaker adjourned the proceedings till 2 pm and later for the day.

special troops behind attack

    Defence Minister AK Antony (pic) said when he reported the incident to the House, his statement was based on the information available then
    Since the Army Chief has visited the area and gone into details, it is now clear that specialist units of the Pakistan Army were involved in the attack
    Nothing happens from the Pakistan side without the support, assistance, facilitation and often direct involvement of Pakistan Army, he said
Peace talks with Pak unlikely to resume
Ashok Tuteja & Vibha Sharma
Tribune News Service

New Delhi, August 8
With Defence Minister AK Antony directly blaming the Pakistan Army for the killing on Indian soldiers along the LOC on Thursday, early resumption of the third round of dialogue between the two countries is ruled out.

India in unlikely to respond any time soon to Pakistan's proposal to hold talks on the Tulbul Navigation Project between the Water Resources Secretaries of the two countries toward the end of this month. Asked if the talks had been put on hold, sources said New Delhi had not communicated to Pakistan its decision on Islamabad's proposal so far and was unlikely to do so in the coming days.

In fact, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh has also come under renewed pressure to cancel his proposed meeting with his Pakistani counterpart Nawaz Sharif in New York in September after the direct involvement of the Pakistan Army in the killing of five Indian soldiers came to light. The PMO has taken note of Sharif's renewed desire to hold talks with Dr Singh in New York. ''There is still a lot of time before the PM visits New York...let's wait,'' sources said when asked about the comments made by Sharif today.

External Affairs Minister Salman Khushid evaded a direct reply when asked in interviews to TV channels whether Dr Singh would hold talks with Sharif in New York. ''Not in a position today to say anything because this is not the time or appropriate atmosphere in which we should be discussing talks. There will be a lot of work necessary if we are to talk... but will it be conducive, we need to look at it,'' he said.

The sense in South Block is that while the dialogue could be put on hold, Dr Singh avoiding a meeting with Sharif in New York would only add to the tension between the two countries and further weaken the civilian government in Pakistan viz-a-viz the Army.

With the Defence Minister's latest statement on the killings, the BJP said the issue was "closed" for the saffron party but insisted that the PM should not hold talks with Sharif.

Taking credit for "saving the country from the embarrassment"caused after "contradictory statements" issued by the Defence Minister AK Antony and the Army, BJP spokesperson Shahnawaz Hussain said: "As a responsible Opposition, it is our duty to bring the government back on track when it gets derailed. We have only played our role. The Defence Minister's mistake would have been harmful for the nation. There is no question of giving any benefit of doubt to Pakistan."
Sharif sad, says keen to meet Manmohan
Ashok Tuteja & Afzal Khan
Tribune News Service

New Delhi/Islamabad, August 8
Hours after Defence Minister AK Antony blamed the Pakistan Army for the killing of five Indian soldiers along the Line of Control (LoC), Pakistan Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif sought to cool down tempers by expressing sadness over the incident which “resulted in flaring up tensions and (causing) loss of precious human lives”.

Realising the growing sentiment against Pakistan in the wake of the killings, Sharif said Islamabad would persist in its efforts to improve relations with India through a constructive dialogue on all issues.

Soon after Antony’s statement, Sharif summoned an emergency meeting with top officials of the Foreign Ministry and the security apparatus in Islamabad to review the situation arising from the conflagration along the LoC. In a statement, he said it was imperative for both India and Pakistan to take effective steps to ensure and restore ceasefire along the LoC.

During the briefing, Sharif, who has vowed to improve ties with India during his fresh term in office, also emphasised that existing military-to-military channels could be more optimally utilised to prevent misunderstanding and not allow the situation to escalate. Pakistan, he said, was prepared to discuss steps with India for further strengthening the existing mechanisms both at the political and military levels.

He said it was incumbent upon the leadership not to allow the situation to drift and to take steps to improve the atmosphere by engaging constructively with a view to building trust and confidence. The Pakistani Premier said he was looking forward to his meeting with Prime Minister Manmohan Singh on the sidelines of the UN General Assembly in New York next month.


    Existing military-to-military channels can be more optimally utilised to prevent misunderstanding and not allow the situation to escalate
    Pakistan prepared to discuss steps with India for further strengthening mechanisms at political and military levels
    It is incumbent upon the leadership not to allow the situation to drift
Retaliate to Pak firing as per norms: Army Chief
Ajay Banerjee/TNS
New Delhi, August 8
Army Chief Gen Bikram Singh has made it clear to his commanders along the Line of Control (LoC) with Pakistan that they should retaliate to Pakistani firing and events across the LoC as per laid down policies and instructions.

The General was on a visit to the LoC yesterday to do an on-the-spot assessment following the killing of five Indian soldiers by Pakistani Army in a cross-border raid in the wee hours on Tuesday.

Sources said there was no need for a fresh set of instructions following the latest incident. The existing set of instructions is detailed and it needs to be followed. "If an act of the local commanders is within the listed standard operating procedures, then there is no fear of getting blamed for escalating matters," sources said. One set of instructions lay down a policy to maintain ceasefire along LoC in line with the 2003 agreement with Pakistan but it also says that Indian troops should fire back when the ceasefire is violated.

When the last incident had taken place in January this year, Gen Bikram Singh at a press conference had said: "I expect all my commanders on the LoC to be aggressive and offensive in face of provocation and fire. I do not expect my commanders to be timid".

He had virtually publicly announced the standard operating procedure: "Uphold the ceasefire as long as the adversary upholds it. When fired at, we will respond immediately. Commanders must understand that the Army hierarchy is standing behind them".

Sources indicate that the statement of the Defence Minister AK Antony in Parliament virtually echoed the Army stand. Antony said: "Naturally, this incident will have consequences on our behavior on the Line of Control".

The Chief took stock of all the standard operating procedures which were followed and looked into if the patrolling team, which came under attack, was carrying weapons and were they adequately covered by the fortified post in the back.

There is no shortage of equipment. Along the LoC posts, we use a new variety of thermal imagers which are imported from France and allow a vision till a distance of 2.5 km from where it can be established if a human figure is approaching.
Soldiers' killings
Think before you speak

After an initial goof-up, Defence Minister A.K. Antony has cleared the air and squarely blamed the Pakistani army for the killing of five soldiers. The tendency to jump to conclusions, pin the blame on someone or give a clean chit on the spur of the moment leads to needless political storms and embarrassments. If the Defence Minister did not have with him full facts about the brutal attack, where was the compulsion to come out with a statement in Parliament — that too so loosely worded and divergent from that of the Army? Once the facts are established, it is expected of the government to articulate a well-considered response. A half-hearted attempt to deal with a sensitive issue can backfire — and it did.

At the time of a national tragedy the political class often does not act in a dignified way. Barring some, political leaders usually fail to keep their emotions in check and express their viewpoint in a controlled and measured way. Some get even hysterical. A few television channels too, without waiting for the picture to become clearer, provoke panelists to make outrageous comments in the heat of the moment. Not to be left behind, government representatives join the high-pitched debate that tends to inflame passions.

There is no doubt the death of any soldier saddens the entire nation and everyone expects the government to act in an appropriate way. The action has to be well thought out, keeping in mind the larger national interest and its repercussions, and not guided by advice given by charged “experts” on TV channels. India should not be made to look like a nation of jingoists who can easily be led to react the way the perpetrators of such dastardly attacks — Pakistan army or terrorists — want it to. Nor should the country appear soft on state or non-state actors, sponsored by disgruntled elements in the Pakistan army, ISI or government. The political leadership in the nuclear-armed neighbours must act responsibly and maturely, and firmly rein in the saboteurs out to disturb the peace in the subcontinent.
My first day in battle
by Col P. S. Sangha, Vir Chakra, (retd)

The battlefield is the sole preserve of soldiers. All soldiers fantasise about being in battle situations, although many go through their full career without having the experience. A battle is the ultimate test of a soldier's professional competence, moral/physical courage, will power and determination. I am one of those who got the opportunity to go to battle stations. The first day in battle is an important one because anything can happen. You may have a great victorious day or you may get whipped. At the personal level, you may have a great/indifferent/bad day.

My first day in battle was in the famous Battle of Laungewala in the 1971Indo-Pak war. Laungewala is a small place North-West of Jaisalmer. I was an Air Observation Post pilot and our flight was located at the airfield in Jaisalmer. The war broke out on the night of December 3, 1971, and by midnight we were given orders to move up to our Advance Landing Ground (ALG) the next day.

Accordingly, I along with another pilot flew two aircraft to the ALG in the afternoon of December 4. The Flight Commander had gone up to the Division HQs for briefing and orders. Under the original plans our formation was to go in for an offensive into Pakistan and as such we were mentally prepared for that.

On the morning of December 5 we were up early and started preparing for the day ahead. At about 6.30 am the Flight Commander came in a tearing hurry and called us for a quick briefing. We were informed that the enemy had launched a surprise attack in the rear flank of the formation with a Brigade Group supported by a regiment plus of tanks. The Laungewala post, which was held by a company of infantry, was under attack. I was briefed to go there and get information of the battle situation. I was told that our Air Force was launching a two-aircraft mission which will also be there.

So, very quickly we got an aircraft ready and there I was sitting in it with my Observer Operator, Raj Singh, beside me waiting for enough light to take off on a winter morning in the Thar desert. My mind was in a bit of turmoil since this was going to be an entirely new experience. I was thinking whether I was going to make it back alive and that made me think of my parents and siblings. Anyway, at 7.15 am we had enough light to fly and I started my engine. A quick salute from the marshalling crew and we were running down the narrow ALG to get smoothly airborne. I turned left towards Laungewala and set course. I was surprised to feel my knees shaking. Was it fear of the unknown or just nervous tension? Probably, a mixture of the two. I willed myself to calm down and soon I was cool, calm and collected.

Ten minutes later I could see the dark smoke rising into the sky and I knew that I did not need any more navigation aid. That was Laungewala. As I got closer I could hear the two fighter aircraft pilots talking to each other. They, like me, were not very clear about the ground situation. I contacted them on the radio and told them that I will be there in five minutes.

Once I was there I saw the scene below. All hell was breaking loose. There were a number of tanks around the post of Laungewala, which was gutted and on fire. The tanks were churning up the desert sand to hide themselves from the fighter aircraft. The machine guns of the tanks were firing towards the aircraft. Since there was no Forward Air Controller (FAC) to guide them, the fighters needed help. So I took on the role of an airborne FAC and started guiding our fighters onto the enemy tanks. After a two-hour sortie I went back to the ALG and came back a second time with a new aircraft. During the next two and a half hours a number of fighter missions came and we worked as a team to knock the wind out of the Pakistani force. By the time I headed back to the ALG 13 Pak tanks lay burning around Laungewala.

Having taken part in a five-hour intense battle in which we came out the victors I was in a state of euphoria. If the enemy had planned their operation well with adequate air support, it would have been a very different story. Pakistan had 104 Star Fighters which were vastly superior to the Hunter aircraft that we had there. One heat-seeking missile would have sent me to the happy hunting grounds. But that is not what happened and so we were the winners.

That evening, while I sipped rum I thought about all this. But then ask any soldier his choice of departure from God's good earth. Would he like to go away in a road accident, on a sick bed or on the battlefield doing his thing? I think most will opt for the third option.
Army to probe tactical lapses that led to killing of 5 soldiers
New Delhi: The Army is expected to order a court of inquiry to investigate if tactical lapses allowed the ambush and killing of five Indian jawans near the Line of Control in Poonch, Jammu and Kashmir this week. The statement of a sixth soldier, Sambhaji Kute, who survived, is expected to be critical to the investigation.

Havildar Kute who is from Maharashtra is being treated in a Poonch hospital.

At 2 am on Tuesday, an area domination patrol team of six Indian jawans was ambushed by heavily armed terrorists, backed by the Paksitan Army. Havildar Kute of the 14 Maratha Light Infantry was the only survivor. Four jawans of the 21 Bihar regiment and one from the 14 Maratha Light Infantry regiment were killed in the attack.

While a court of inquiry is mandatory in such an incident, questions have been raised over why six members were patrolling the area in the team when standard practice is to go out on in a party of at least ten, which is called a section. (Blog: Did tactical errors trap Indian soldiers?)

Some reports have suggested that 21 Bihar, the outgoing regiment, was showing the unit that would take over in the area, 14 Maratha, key locations and a bunker ahead of the fence, but well within the Indian side of the LoC. If so, experts ask, why was the new unit being familiarised at night?

Then, patrolling had happened in the same pattern without variation for days, sources said. Doing this over a prolonged period gives the adversary an opportunity to observe the patrolling pattern closely and allows it to attack at a time and place of its choosing?

The most vulnerable period on the LoC is during the changeover of units, experts say. This is when the old unit, familiar with the territory is in transfer mode, the new one is yet to familiarise.

Attacks have happened in such periods before. In 2010 two Indian soldiers were beheaded in the Uri sector during a changeover.

Indian troops are also reported to use similar tactics.
Blog: Did tactical errors trap Indian soldiers?
New Delhi: Defence Minister AK Antony's statement in Parliament on Thursday blaming special troops of Pakistani Army for attack on the Indian Army patrol in Poonch area early on Tuesday has brought the curtain down on the controversy, at least temporarily.

That said the Indian security establishment, especially the Indian Army will have to look within and review some of the procedures and tactics that are being employed along the Line of Control (LoC). When the January beheading of an Indian soldier happened, there were murmurs that there could have been tactical errors on part of the patrol party that allowed the Pakistani Border Action Team (BAT) to kill the two Indian soldiers.
After the killing of five soldiers this week, the murmurs have become louder. An initial internal assessment of the incident points to tactical lapses by the local unit.
A couple of questions need quick answers for the situation to be rectified. One, why was the area domination patrol strength only six and not the minimum ten (a section) as is the standard practice? Some reports have suggested that the outgoing battalion (21 Bihar) was showing the incoming unit (14 Maratha) key locations and a bunker ahead of the fence, but well within the LoC. If that be so, why take the new unit on a familiarisation exercise at night?

Also, was the patrolling pattern repeated without variation over a prolonged period giving the adversary the chance to observe it closely and then attack at a time and place of its choosing?
No doubt, all these possible shortcomings are being looked into. Surely the commanders on ground would know that the most vulnerable period on the LoC is during the change over of units. The old unit is in transfer mode, the new one is on unfamiliar territory. That's when the adversary is known to strike. In 2010, in the Uri sector, two Indian soldiers were beheaded in exactly these circumstances. That Indian troops hit back appropriately with similar tactics is also well known.
But there is a larger question here posed by veterans of Kashmir deployment: Have commanders on the ground lost the ability to take initiative and launch punitive action against raiding Pakistani forces? Has the leadership developed cold feet in taking actions that are well within its realm of responsibility?
Sample what one veteran emailed me in the immediate aftermath of the killing of five soldiers this week: "If I were the CO, I would have launched a decisive counter attack to make the enemy pay with or without permission from my superiors and to hell with the consequences. Such actions are not without precedents. In the early 60s, there was an incident of beheading in Blue Sector (J&K) which was answered by an immediate counter attack by the battalion after which there was no such incident till the battalion was de-inducted. The Company commander later on rose to be an Army Commander. And then there was a Corps Commander (who later on became the Chief) who ordered punitive action with telling effect without any sanction from the Army Commander.

"When pulled up, he said that seeking permission for local actions would only result in delaying the response which would have finally ended in a stalemate. No further questions were asked. At present we only seem to be reacting instead of (pre-) acting and/or pro-acting. Its time we went on the offensive with a series of attacks which will give a clear message to the enemy that we mean business. Endless inaction on our part will certainly leave us in a demoralised state. If this course leads to war, so be it. Patience seems to be our only strong point at present."
2013, admittedly is not the 1960s but bold local commanders are known to be appropriately aggressive even in the past half a dozen years. Of late, however, there is a tendency to be ultra cautious, to look for directions from the top before taking any step considered out of the box.
Therefore, after all is said and done, the Indian Army must review its counter-infiltration operating procedure on the LoC. In all likelihood, commanders on ground are constrained by an overwhelming urge to look for a signal from the brass before taking any tough step.
They will have to revisit the old adage: what is militarily desirable is not necessarily politically correct. They must know that mixing political expediency with military action is suicidal. Only then Indian Army officers can regain the confidence of their men and thereby the Indian citizens.
Let's also realise that the ceasefire put in place at the LoC between India and Pakistan in November 2003 is all but a charade now. Brutal killings, cross-border raids, medium and heavy firing with small arms and mortars has increased exponentially over the past couple of years.
This calendar year alone, there have been 57 ceasefire violations by Pakistan, a whopping 80 per cent jump from 2012. The number of infiltration attempts have also risen dramatically. But more than anything else, it is the intention of the Pakistani Army and ISI to keep the pot boiling in Kashmir that has not changed, ceasefire or no ceasefire.
Northern Army Commander Lt Gen KT Parnaik had told me in an interview on June 17, less than two months ago: "We have to understand that the infrastructure that supports and propels this entire proxy war across the border is intact, whether they are the training camps or the launching pads or the communication facilities. Secondly, the continued efforts of the establishment in Pakistan to push the infiltrators across the LoC continue.
"The number of ceasefire violations that we have had and a large number of incidents in which they had tried to breach the LoC and the fence has been detected in the past. So I feel as long as the intention on the infrastructure doesn't change we cannot keep our guard down. While these figures have marginally changed over a period of time, it is not the numbers that are important, it is the fact that they continue to be there and every season these camps get activated for training and motivation. Intelligence agencies have confirmed that these camps continue to be active. So they are talking about 42 camps across and 4,000-5,000 is generally the strength.

"They come for training and go away, but the important part is why should the adversary maintain these camps, why should they give them the patronage? They get arms, equipment, state of the art communication equipment and wherewithal to carry out infiltration. This itself highlights the problems that exist today. Despite a number of dialogues, there is no improvement, that's why we can't let our guard down."
Words of a professional who foresaw what was in store.
Despite all the professed willingness showed by Pakistan's newly-elected Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif to take the peace process with India forward, as long as the Pakistani Army and ISI along with groups like Lashkar-e-Toiba, remain inimical to India, no amount of dialogue will calm the situation on the LoC.
The Indian establishment, especially those pushing for talks with Pakistan at any cost must take this into account. Can Mr Sharif enure the closure of these camps? Can New Delhi hold Islamabad accountable to the promise it made in January 2004 that Pakistan will not allow its territory or territory controlled by it to be used by terrorists for anti-India activities?
If there is no guarantee on this count, no amount of conferences on the sidelines of UN General Assembly or otherwise, are going to bear any fruit.

Pakistan army involved in killing of Indian soldiers: Defence Minister AK Antony
After being attacked by the Opposition for letting Pakistan off the hook for the deadly ambush on five Indian soldiers in Kashmir this week, Defence Minister AK Antony today issued a new statement on the attack in Parliament, and indicted the Pakistani Army.

The minister said that "specialist troops" of the Pakistani Army were responsible for the killings.

"We all know nothing happens along the Line of Control without the involvement of the Pak Army," he said. Leader of the Opposition Sushma Swaraj said she welcomes his new statement, suggesting a possible end to the huge stand-off between her party and the government over Mr Antony's original assessment of how the Indians were killed.

The opposition demanded first an apology and then a revised statement from Mr Antony, who on Wednesday, stopped short of blaming the Pakistani army and attributed the assault to "men in Pakistani army uniforms."

The Defence Minister was contradicted by his own ministry, whose statement directly attributed the attack to the Pakistani Army. That press release was later withdrawn, and the Defence Ministry and army said that the minister's account was correct.

The opposition said that the minister had "given Pakistan a clean chit" and had forced the army to censor the facts. Today's account by the minister is based, he said, on inputs from Army Chief General Bikram Singh who visited Kashmir yesterday.

The government has been keen to prevent the crisis from derailing attempts to revive peace talks with Pakistan. The BJP's senior leaders warned the Prime Minister at a meeting on Wednesday evening that "the country is not in the mood to see him embrace Nawaz Sharif," the newly-elected Prime Minister of Pakistan.

The two leaders were expected to meet on the sidelines of the UN General Assembly in New York next month.

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