–Modi govt promises ‘strong response’ to Kashmir bombing that killed 44 paramilitary soldiers on Thursday
–Jaitley says there’s ‘incontrovertible evidence’ against Pakistan even though Indian officials are yet to launch probe into attack
–Pakistan rejects ‘unfounded allegations’, says Jaish-e-Muhammad is proscribed outfit and has no links with Pakistan
–US says Pakistan should ‘immediately end providing support, safe havens to all terrorist groups’
ISLAMABAD/NEW DELHI: Pakistan on Friday summoned India’s Deputy High Commissioner Gaurav Ahluwalia and lodged a strong protest over allegations by India linking Thursday’s suicide attack in Occupied Kashmir to Islamabad, hours after New Delhi announced the withdrawal of Most Favoured Nation (MFN) status for Pakistan.
The Pakistan Foreign Office summoned the Indian diplomat and handed him a protest note, stating that India leveled unfounded allegations against Pakistan without carrying out a probe into the blast in Pulwama district that claimed the lives of at least 44 paramilitary soldiers.
“Pakistan strongly rejects the Indian government’s allegations. Jaish-e-Muhammad is a proscribed outfit and has no links with Pakistan. The alleged attackers belonged to the area under Indian occupation,” it said.
At least 44 Central Reserve Police Force (CRPF) personnel were killed and many others injured when suspected militants targeted a convoy with a car bomb at Awantipora in Indian-occupied-Jammu and Kashmir’s Pulwama district on Thursday, in what is the worst attack ever on security personnel in the state. Reports suggested that the vehicle used by the terrorists was a Mahindra Scorpio carrying more than 350 kg of explosives.
Jaish-e-Muhammad has claimed responsibility for the attack.
The attack came just months before Modi’s ruling Hindu nationalists face a tight general election.
The move to revoke MFN status for Pakistan followed a cabinet meeting during which Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi reportedly promised a “strong response” to the attack. Pakistan has denied all allegations.
Briefing the press about the cabinet’s decision, Indian Finance Minister Arun Jaitley said that the Modi government had decided to initiate steps to ensure complete diplomatic isolation of Pakistan.
“The MFN status that had been granted to Pakistan stands withdrawn,” he added. In the World Trade Organisation (WTO), this status means non-discrimination — treating virtually everyone equally.
“The Ministry of External Affairs (MEA) will initiate all possible steps ─ and I’m referring to […] diplomatic steps ─ which have to be taken to ensure the complete isolation from the international community of Pakistan,” Jaitley said, adding that there is “incontrovertible evidence” of Pakistan “having a direct hand in this gruesome terrorist incident”.
Following Thursday night’s attack, Islamabad strongly rejected any insinuation that sought to link the attack to Pakistan without investigations. “We have always condemned acts of violence anywhere in the world,” the Foreign Office said.
“We strongly reject any insinuation by elements in the Indian media and government that seek to link the attack to Pakistan without investigations,” the spokesperson had asserted.
It is pertinent to mention here that Indian investigators have yet to reach Pulwama, the site of the attack. A 12-member National Investigation Agency team left for occupied Kashmir around 11am to help police conduct a “forensic evaluation” of the site of the attack, NDTV reported.
The Indian finance minister said that the External Affairs Ministry would “also engage with the international community to make sure that the comprehensive convention on international terrorism, which has been pending for over three decades before the United Nations, particularly because of the definition of the word terrorism, is now adopted at the earliest.”
“As far as our security forces are concerned, we will be taking all possible steps, firstly to ensure that full security is maintained, and secondly, to ensure that those who have committed this heinous act of terrorism and those who have supported it actively are made to pay a heavy cost for it,” he said.
The finance minister said that Indian Home Minister Rajnath Singh would be leaving for Srinagar with a team of officials. Upon his return, he will be calling an all-parties meeting to brief them on the situation, Jaitley said.
‘BLOOD OF PEOPLE IS BOILING’:
Meanwhile, Modi, while speaking at an event on Friday, said the country will give a “strong response” to this attack. The “blood of the people is boiling” and forces behind the act of terrorism will be definitely be punished, he was quoted as saying by Hindustan Times.
Without naming Pakistan, PM Modi claimed “if our neighbour, which is totally isolated in the world and thinks it can destabilise India through its tactics and conspiracies, then it is making a huge mistake”.
Even though the investigation is in its preliminary stages, the US singled out Pakistan in its statement late Thursday night condemning the attack.
“The United States calls on Pakistan to end immediately the support and safe haven provided to all terrorist groups operating on its soil, whose only goal is to sow chaos, violence, and terror in the region,” the statement from the White House press secretary’s office said. It said the attack strengthened US resolve to bolster counterterrorism cooperation with India.