PM Khan denies Pakistani role in attack

In a televised message yesterday, Pakistan's Prime Minister Imran Khan warned that his country will retaliate if India launches any attack.
In a televised message yesterday, Pakistan's Prime Minister Imran Khan warned that his country will retaliate if India launches any attack.PHOTO: AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

Pakistan's Prime Minister Imran Khan said his country had no role in a suicide bomb attack in Kashmir that killed more than 40 Indian soldiers but warned of retaliation if India attacked Pakistan, amid rising tensions between the two nuclear-armed neighbours.

India has accused Pakistan of having a "direct hand" in the terror attack on Feb 14, for which Pakistan-based group Jaish-e-Mohammad has claimed responsibility.

Mr Khan's statement, which also referred to upcoming elections in India, came a day after Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi said the time for dialogue with Pakistan had passed. He urged dialogue but also warned of reprisals.

"It is your election year and we understand that during elections, you will get a boost to teach Pakistan a lesson. If you... launch any attack... Pakistan will retaliate," Mr Khan said in a televised message to the nation and to India.

He said he had kept silent till now as he did not want to detract focus from a visit by Saudi Arabia's Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, who ended a visit to Pakistan and arrived yesterday in India.

"We know it is easy to start a war. It is in the hands of humans to start a war; however, to end war isn't in our hands," said Mr Khan.

In response to Mr Khan, India's Ministry of External Affairs (MEA) called Pakistan the "nerve centre of terrorism".

 
 
 
 

"It is a well-known fact that Jaish-e-Mohammad and its leader, Masood Azhar, are based in Pakistan. These should be sufficient proof for Pakistan to take action," said MEA spokesman Raveesh Kumar.

He said it was "regrettable" Mr Khan "has insinuated that India's response to the terrorist attack is determined by the forthcoming general election."

India and Pakistan have gone to war three times over Kashmir and regularly exchange fire along the Line of Control or the de facto border, despite a ceasefire agreement.

India says talks with Pakistan depends on Islamabad taking action against terror groups operating on its soil, but Pakistan maintains that Kashmir is the core issue.

The attack on the bus carrying paramilitary troops raised tensions between the two countries once again, with India saying it possessed "incontrovertible evidence" of Pakistan's involvement.

That proof has not been revealed but a senior Indian army official, Lieutenant-General K.J.S. Dhillon, at a press briefing in Srinagar, the capital of Kashmir, charged Pakistan's military, the country's most powerful institution and known to control foreign policy, and spy agency Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) with having a hand in it.

The attack in Kashmir has created an upswell of nationalism in India, with protests in different parts of the country against Pakistan amid calls for tough action.

Analysts noted Mr Khan's statement followed predictable lines.

"In both countries, there is a slow hardening of positions at a national level," said Dr D. Suba Chandran, a professor in international strategic and security studies at the National Institute of Advanced Studies. "I don't foresee any major development, and... major peace initiative (or dialogue) from the Indian side."

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on February 20, 2019, with the headline 'PM Khan denies Pakistani role in attack'. Print Edition | Subscribe