By Syed Zafar Mehdi

Pakistan PM offers cooperation, demands ‘actionable evidence’ from India

February 21, 2019 - 9:1

TEHRAN - Almost a week after a deadly attack in Indian-controlled Kashmir killed at least 44 members of India’s central reserve police force, Pakistan’s premier finally broke his silence on Tuesday.

The deadliest attack in the disputed Himalayan region since the insurgency broke out in late 1980s sparked widespread outrage and protests in India, with some politicians calling for ‘retaliation’.

The responsibility for the attack was claimed by Jaish e Mohammad (JeM), headed by Masood Azhar, which reportedly has bases in Pakistan.

Following the attack, India accused Pakistan’s intelligence agency of sponsoring the attack and providing sanctuary to anti-India militant groups like JeM.

Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi vowed a “befitting reply” and federal minister Arun Jaitley said New Delhi would take all diplomatic steps to ensure “complete isolation of Pakistan” in the international community.

Responding to the tirade, Pakistan’s Foreign Minister Shah Mahmood Qureshi said the threat to diplomatically isolate Pakistan was “a dream which will never come true”.

Amidst this hullabaloo, one important voice was silent, that of Prime Minister Imran Khan. He was busy with his guest from Riyadh who came with investment worth billions of dollars.

On Tuesday morning, PM Khan, in a 10-minute video message addressed to the Indian government, said Islamabad will take action if Delhi shares any “actionable evidence” linking Pakistan with last week's suicide bombing in south Kashmir.

He said he wanted to respond to India’s allegations earlier, “but we had a very important visit from the crown prince of Saudi Arabia, we had an investment conference happening that we had been preparing for a long time,” said the cricketer-turned-politician.

Khan offered to cooperate with India and again extended an olive branch over Kashmir issue, but he also warned India against any act of aggression, saying Pakistan will not hesitate in retaliating.

“First of all, you accused Pakistan. [There was] no evidence. You never thought: 'what would be in it for Pakistan?’” he said. “Would even a fool do such a thing to sabotage his own conference? And even if he [MBS] had not been visiting, what benefit would Pakistan get from it?"

“Why would Pakistan, at this stage, when it is moving towards stability ? we have fought a war against terrorism for 15 years, 70,000 Pakistanis have lost their lives, terrorism is receding, peace and stability are returning ? what benefit would we get from it?” Khan asked.

Taking a dig at New Delhi, Khan said New Delhi holds Pakistan responsible every time something happens in Kashmir. “Instead of trying to resolve the Kashmir issue, start a dialogue or move forward, you want to make Islamabad your whipping boy again and again," he said, addressing New Delhi.

Referring to his slogan of ‘Naya Pakistan’ (New Pakistan), Khan said there is “a new mindset, a new way of thinking” in Pakistan and it is not in the country’s interest that its soil is used to carry out terrorist attacks in other countries.

“Today, I would like to make the Indian government an offer. Any sort of investigation you wish to carry out regarding this incident about the involvement of any Pakistani, we are ready,” he asserted.

“If you have any actionable intelligence that a Pakistani is involved, give it to us. I guarantee you that we will take action ? not because we are under pressure, but because they [people involved] are acting as enemies of Pakistan,” Khan said.

“If today in Afghanistan, after 17 years, the entire world has accepted that there is no military solution and that the issue can only be resolved through dialogue, shouldn't there be discussion about this in India?” he asked.

Commenting on the war rhetoric in India, Khan said it was unjust. "We are hearing the voices in India that say 'Pakistan must be taught a lesson', 'Revenge must be taken from Pakistan', 'There should be a strike' ... First of all, what law gives any country to become judge, jury and executioner?" he asked.

“Secondly, you are facing an election year. And we believe that during the election, [you think] you will get a big boost if you 'teach Pakistan a lesson',” he said, referring to upcoming elections in India.

“And after that, where does the matter go? We all know that starting a war is easy. Starting a war may be in our hands, ending it won't be. Where it will go, God knows. That's why I hope that better sense will prevail,” he said, urging calm, and calling for dialogue and talks to resolve the issues.

Responding to Khan’s offer, India’s foreign ministry termed it a “lame excuse”, and asked him to “stop misleading the international community”.

“The prime minister of Pakistan has offered to investigate the matter if India provides proof. This is a lame excuse,” said a statement by India’s foreign ministry.

“We demand Pakistan to stop misleading the international community and take credible and visible action against the perpetrators of Pulwama terrorist attack."

India’s main opposition party Congress said if the Pakistan premier was serious then he should hand over JeM chief Masood Azhar to India.

“This is like a two-headed snake. While one head continues to bite India, the other head makes sanctimonious noises about talking…If Imran Khan is serious about what he is saying then he should first hand over Masood Azhar to India. Jaish (JeM) has claimed responsibility,” senior Congress leader Manish Tewari was quoted as saying by The Indian Express.

He also asked why the Indian government was welcoming Saudi Arabia’s crown prince Mohammed bin Salman and rolling out a red carpet for him.

“Saudi Arabia’s crown prince Mohammed bin Salman, if you read the joint statement with Pakistan, has essentially supported the non-listing of the Jaish and Masood Azhar as UN entities. So under those circumstances, why are we even receiving him in India when he is so openly batting for Pakistan,” he asked.

The joint statement by Saudi Arabia and Pakistan Monday said there was a need to avoid “politicisation of the UN listing regime” — an oblique reference to India’s efforts to list Masood Azhar as a “global terrorist”.

Meanwhile, earlier on Tuesday, Indian Army announced that Pakistan's intelligence agency ISI along with JeM was involved in the Pulwama attack.

Addressing a joint press conference with J&K Police and CRPF, Indian Army said that the mastermind behind the attack had been killed in a military encounter in Kashmir on Monday.

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