Pakistan vows retaliation should India launch military strikes

Pakistan’s Prime Minister Imran Khan said his nation would retaliate if attacked by India, following New Delhi’s strongest accusations yet that its nuclear-armed neighbor was responsible for a major terrorist attack in Kashmir.

“Pakistan will not think of retaliation, Pakistan will retaliate,” Khan said in a televised speech on Tuesday. “There will be no other option than retaliation.”

Tensions between the historic arch-rivals have been high since a militant car bombing, claimed by a Pakistani-based group Jaish-e-Mohammed, on Feb. 14 in Kashmir killed 40 members of India’s security forces — the deadliest strike in the region in decades.

Alluding to India’s upcoming general election, Khan said Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi could “get a boost” by authorizing some kind of military action against Pakistan, but that he hoped “better sense prevails.”

Khan, who has called for peace talks with New Delhi since his election victory last year, also said India was blaming Pakistan without having any evidence and promised to take action if they could hand over actionable intelligence.

Earlier on Tuesday, K.J.S. Dhillon, commander of the Indian army’s Kashmir-based 15 Corps., said a terrorist belonging to Jaish-e-Mohammed planned last week’s strike on a convoy of paramilitary troops. The man was a Pakistani national with links to the Inter-Services Intelligence, or ISI, Pakistan’s main spy agency, and was gunned down in an encounter on Monday, Dhillon said.

Four Indian soldiers, including a major, were also killed in the military operation on Monday, Dhillon said at a news conference in Jammu and Kashmir’s capital of Srinagar.

“Pakistan’s Army and ISI were handling Kamran, the Jaish-e-Mohammed commander in Kashmir,” Dhillon told reporters.

Relations between the neighboring South Asian nations nosedived after last week’s attack, in which a vehicle packed with explosives was driven into a bus carrying paramilitary troops. It was the worst attack in Kashmir for decades and by far the biggest terrorist strike since Modi was elected in 2014.

It was the latest incident in a long history of violence in the disputed territory, which has been described as an open wound between the two nations since the partition of British India in 1947. The Muslim-majority region is divided and has been the cause of multiple wars between India and Pakistan, both of whom claim Kashmir in full.

Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi said the country’s defense forces have been given the freedom to respond even as New Delhi scrapped the most favored nation status it had awarded Pakistan and slapped 200 percent duties on shipments from the country.

Modi’s options are constrained as both nations hold nuclear weapons. Analysts have predicted Modi may react in a similar way to a 2016 attack on Indian security forces in Kashmir that killed 19 soldiers, and was also blamed on terrorists from Pakistan, leading to New Delhi launching limited retaliatory cross-border strikes and avoiding a full-scale escalation.

But Pakistan in 2016 denied those cross-border “surgical strikes” took place. Therefore the problem for India’s government now is that it may feel it has to act more aggressive than targeting insurgent hideouts across the de-facto border, said Manoj Joshi, a distinguished fellow at the New Delhi-based Observer Research Foundation think-tank.

India may lack the specific pin-point intelligence required for air strikes targeting specific Jaish-e-Mohammed targets. Such raids could end up killing civilians and hurting India’s international image, while any attack on a military installation would be sure to prompt a retaliation from Pakistan, Joshi said.

“This is an election year and Mr Modi’s already made some somewhat-leading statements, which will be held against him if he does nothing,” Joshi said. However, he added, the problem is: What do you hit? “There’s scores of military targets. There’s no dearth of them. But if you strike one, then you get into a potential escalation cycle.”

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