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NEW DELHI: India, accusing Pakistan of continued ceasefire violations along the Kashmir border on Tuesday, warned Islamabad of pain if it didn’t desist, but Defence Minister Arun Jaitley also said that it was up to Islamabad to create the conditions for a resumption of stalled talks.

“Our conventional strength is far more than theirs. So if they persist with this, they’ll feel the pain of this adventurism,” Mr Jaitley told NDTV.

“When Pakistan used to fire, we always had a shield in our hand. This time we also had a sword,” he added, emphasising that India had asked its armed forces to retaliate forcefully to alleged ceasefire violations.

The minister noted that for the last few days, there have been just sporadic incidents unlike the “huge number” of violations allegedly by Pakistan earlier.

Armed forces asked to retaliate forcefully to “ceasefire violations”, says defence minister

“... When Pakistan fires, either in International border, the BSF (paramilitary Border Security Force) responds, they fire in LoC, the army responds. Our conventional strength is far more than theirs and therefore if they persist with this, the cost to them would be unaffordable. They will also feel the pain of this kind of adventurism,” Mr Jaitley said in the interview.

His comments followed an analysis in the Indian Express on Tuesday, which said Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s strategy to up the ante for Pakistan along the border was akin to shooting oneself in the foot. “The lesson from the data is simple: firing on the LoC helps Pakistan pursue an escalatory strategy; quiet makes it harder,” The Express said.

Mr Jaitley’s interview also coincided with the announcement by Mr Modi that he would spend the festival of Diwali with the victims of the recent floods in Jammu and Kashmir.

Though analysts are seeing the move as linked to pending state elections in Jammu and Kashmir, there was also a view that the LoC flare-up had helped Mr Modi lead the polls in Maharashtra and Haryana, where his Bharatiya Janata Party evicted the Congress after 15 and 10 years respectively.

In the worst border violence in over a decade, at least 20 civilians have been killed this month on both sides of the border; dozens more were injured. While the firing has abated, tension remains high along the border.

India’s top army officials and the government have been quoted as saying that Prime Minister Modi has given the defence forces a free hand on handling the tension and violence at the Kashmir border.

Mr Modi invited his Pakistani counterpart, Nawaz Sharif, to his swearing-in ceremony in May. After that, talks between foreign secretaries of the two countries were scheduled for August but India opted out after Pakistan’s envoy to Delhi met Kashmiri separatists ahead of the meeting.

Kashmir’s Hurriyat Party chief Mirwaiz Umar Farooq told Dawn from Srinagar that Mr Modi’s government had failed to keep its promise to rush relief to the afflicted state after the devastating floods. “It would be far more useful if he sent the aid instead, or at least allowed international agencies to help us out. His visit at this juncture would be little more than of optic value.”

Referring to the recent firing and shelling by Pakistan on the International Border and Line of Control, Mr Jaitley said this time the violations were high and therefore the response had to be proportionate.

On future dialogue with Islamabad, Mr Jaitley said his government had never said it would not talk to Pakistan.

“Of course we are ready to talk. It is for Pakistan to create the environment for talk. That is the message which has been given to Pakistan.”

Pakistan will have to stop the “triggers” which upset the environment in which talks are held, Mr Jaitley said, identifying the “triggers” as cross-border terror and tensions at LoC.

“If they dilute their stand on these issues, perhaps you will have an atmosphere of talks,” he said.

Referring to Pakistan High Commissioner Abdul Basit’s meetings with Kashmiri separatists ahead of foreign secretary-level talks two months back, Mr Jaitley said it was an “extremely provocative” act.

“You can’t be talking to the Indian state and simultaneously talk to people who want to break the India state.

“Therefore, a strong message needed to be given to Pakistan, and that is where the NDA government is a little different. We did give that strong message to them,” he said, referring to cancellation of the foreign secretary-level talks because of that.

He dismissed the recent sighting of ISIS flags in Jammu and Kashmir as “stray incidents of individuals”.

Published in Dawn, October 22nd, 2014