ISLAMABAD: Pakistan is ready to help India investigate the deadliest blast in Kashmir in decades, but will retaliate if Delhi attacks, Prime Minister Imran Khan said yesterday as tensions between the nuclear-armed rivals soared.
Khan used a nationally televised address to demand Delhi share proof of Islamabad’s involvement in last week’s suicide blast, which killed 41 people in Indian-held Kashmir and unleashed a fresh diplomatic crisis over the disputed Himalayan region.
The attack was claimed by Pakistan-based militant group Jaish-e-Mohammed. Indian officials have said those behind the blast will pay a ‘heavy price’.
If India attacks, “Pakistan won’t just think to retaliate. Pakistan will retaliate,” said Khan in the address.
Pakistan has denied involvement. Khan said yesterday that if any militant group was using Pakistani soil to launch attacks, “its enmity is with us. This is against our interest”.
“If you have some actionable intelligence about involvement of Pakistanis, give it to us, I guarantee you that we will take action,” he added.
Khan said it was ‘easy to start a war’, but that he hopes ‘better sense will prevail’ in the dispute.
Kashmir has been split between India and Pakistan since independence from Britain in 1947. Both countries claim the Himalayan territory in full and have fought two wars in connection to the dispute.
India has long accused Pakistan of harbouring militants that launch attacks on its soil, while Islamabad has repeatedly vowed to crack down on the groups if Delhi provides evidence of involvement.
Moments after the address, Khan’s verified Instagram account posted a picture of the premier – scowling and cross-armed – along with a message that read: “Don’t mess with my country”.
Roughly an hour after it was posted the message had more than 30,000 likes, but then was abruptly removed, replaced with video clips of the speech.
Khan’s message came as India said it had killed the alleged militant behind the attack.
The Indian military also said yesterday the bombing had been ‘masterminded’ by Pakistan, and specifically its powerful Inter-Services Intelligence branch.
The attack has triggered nationwide anger in India.
Multiple attacks on Kashmiris have been reported, while arrests have been made for social media comments seen as supporting Pakistan or the militants.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi faces increased pressure to act as his Hindu nationalist government is expected to call a national election within weeks.
The Indian government has already withdrawn trade privileges for Pakistan, ended police protection for four Kashmiri separatist leaders, and halted some cross-border services.
Meanwhile the violence has continued in Kashmir, with Indian troops suffering new losses Monday in a battle with militants that left nine dead, officials said, piling more pressure on the Indian government.
Earlier yesterday, Pakistani Foreign Minister Shah Mahmood Qureshi pleaded with UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres to intervene in the escalating row.
“The United Nations must step in to defuse tensions,” wrote Qureshi in a message shared with journalists.
Earlier this week, Saudi Arabia vowed to ‘de-escalate’ the situation during a high-profile state visit by Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman to Islamabad. He is also due in India this week.
Kashmir is one of the world’s most militarised zones, with some 500,000 Indian troops deployed to fight a rebellion that broke out in 1989.
Scores of armed groups are now involved.
Tens of thousands of people, mainly civilians, have died in the conflict.
Violence has spiked since 2016 with almost 600 killed last year, the highest toll in a decade. — AFP