ISLAMABAD, Aug 8: Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif said on Thursday that he hoped the peace dialogue with India would remain intact, adding that Pakistan was willing to work with the neighbouring country to prevent recurrence of violent incidents along the Line of Control (LoC) which flared up bilateral tensions.

“It is incumbent upon the leadership of both sides 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,” he said at a special meeting held at the Foreign Office to discuss the latest incidents along the LoC.

Tensions ratcheted up after India alleged that five of its soldiers had been killed on Tuesday in an ambush involving Pakistani troops in Poonch Sector, some 200km south of Srinagar.

The Pakistan Foreign Office and military have rejected the allegation. Director General of Military Operations (DGMO) Maj Gen Ashfaq Nadeem spoke to his Indian counterpart on Wednesday and told him that there was no truth in the accusations.

The prime minister said Pakistan would persist with its efforts for normalising ties with India through a “constructive dialogue on all issues”.

His statement came amid media reports that India could halt the dialogue that had already been in limbo since the start of this year because of similar hostilities on the LoC. Two Indian and three Pakistani soldiers were killed in various incidents.

Reacting to the media reports, Indian External Affairs Minister Salman Khurshid sounded more cautious and said it was premature to draw such conclusions.

The prime ministers of both countries were scheduled to meet on the sidelines of the UN General Assembly session next month in New York. The Indian government has been under pressure from the opposition to cancel the meeting in protest against the LoC incident.

The two sides were also working out the dates for the various segments of their annual peace dialogue that could not be held this year because of earlier incidents.

Foreign Ministry officials said that PM Sharif was hopeful that his meeting with Dr Manmohan Singh would go ahead as scheduled and provide the two leaders an opportunity to “discuss steps to further build trust and consolidate this relationship”.

Soon after his election, Mr Sharif had made improvement in ties with India his government’s foreign policy priority. He also appointed former ambassador Shehryar Khan for ‘track-II’ diplomacy with India to supplement the official channel.

The prime minister expressed his grief over the LoC incidents and the loss of lives and said both countries would have to take effective steps to prevent violation of ceasefire.

Pakistan and India agreed in November 2003 to a ceasefire in the region and committed not to attack each other’s personnel and posts. The ceasefire was largely observed by both sides, but has been frequently violated this year.

Army officials say there have been 188 incidents of ceasefire violation this year.

The army claimed on Thursday that Indian forces had again violated the ceasefire in Hot Spring Sector along the LoC in which a civilian was seriously wounded.

Mr Sharif said that while existing military-to-military channels could be used to calm down the tensions along the LoC, he was ready to work with India to address the issues.

“Pakistan is prepared to discuss steps with India for further strengthening of existing mechanisms both at the political and military levels,” he said.

Before Tuesday’s incident, a Pakistani soldier was killed and another injured in an Indian attack on July 27 Indian Defence Minister A.K. Antony initially told his country’s parliament that the attack had been carried out by terrorists who were accompanied by “men in Pakistan Army uniform”. However, after relentless opposition criticism of being soft on Pakistan, he changed his stance and said “specialist troops” of the Pakistan Army had carried out the ambush.

According to AFP, the Indian minister also hinted at stronger military action along the LoC.

“It is now clear that the specialist troops of the Pakistan Army were involved in this attack,” he told parliament.

“Nothing happens from Pakistan’s side of the LoC without the support, assistance, facilitation and often direct involvement of the Pakistan Army,” he said.


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