'Where will it lead?': Imran Khan warns India against attack over Kashmir

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Islamabad: Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan has asked the United Nations to intervene in a rapidly escalating dispute with India while telling his neighbour Pakistan will retaliate if it is attacked in response to a bombing this week in Kashmir.

Where will revenge lead?, asked Pakistani PM Imran Khan.

Where will revenge lead?, asked Pakistani PM Imran Khan.Credit:AP

Tensions between the nuclear-armed neighbours has risen sharply over a Thursday suicide bombing that killed 40 Indian military police in the Indian-controlled part of the disputed Himalayan region.

The attack has caused outrage in India, with calls for revenge circulating on social media and rising animosity towards Kashmiri Muslims in other parts of the Hindu-majority country, to the alarm of rights groups.

Indian police men keep vigil during the fourth consecutive day of curfew in Jammu,  Kashmir state, India,

Indian police men keep vigil during the fourth consecutive day of curfew in Jammu, Kashmir state, India, Credit:AP

Khan added that he wanted to cooperate in investigating the attack claimed by the Pakistan-based Jaish-e-Mohammad (JeM) militant group. India blamed it on Pakistan's support for terrorists.

Pakistani authorities have denied any involvement in the attack and called for United Nations intervention.

Indian police officers carry coffin of their colleague during a wreath-laying ceremony in Srinagar, Indian controlled Kashmir, on Monday.

Indian police officers carry coffin of their colleague during a wreath-laying ceremony in Srinagar, Indian controlled Kashmir, on Monday.Credit:AP

But Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi, facing a general election by May, has come under pressure to exact revenge and has said he has given his security forces a free hand to administer a "strong response."

Khan, in a televised address to the nation, noted the calls in India for revenge and said he hoped "better sense will prevail."

"If you think that you will launch any kind of attack on Pakistan, Pakistan will not just think about retaliation, Pakistan will retaliate," Khan said. "And after that where will it head?"

The United Nations is "deeply concerned" at the rising tensions and Secretary-General Antonio Guterres is available to mediate if both sides ask, UN spokesman Stephane Dujarric said. Earlier on Tuesday, Pakistani Foreign Minister Shah Mahmood Qureshi sent a letter to Guterres seeking UN involvement.

Indian Army's Lieutenant General KJS Dhillon, centre, on Tuesday.

Indian Army's Lieutenant General KJS Dhillon, centre, on Tuesday.Credit:AP

"The secretary-general stresses the importance for both sides to exercise maximum restraint and take immediate steps to de-escalation," Dujarric said.

The South Asian neighbours have fought three wars since independence from Britain in 1947, two of them over Kashmir, a Muslim-majority region.

While they have not waged full-scale war since they both tested nuclear weapons in 1998, they have engaged in countless skirmishes along their de facto boundary in the mountains of Kashmir.

The United States, which has condemned the attack as "heinous", has been in contact with both India and Pakistan to discuss the issue, State Department spokesman Robert Palladino told a briefing.

He said Washington was committed to working with India on counter-terrorism and urged Pakistan "to fully cooperate with the investigation into the attack" and to "punish anyone responsible."

Indian muslims burn posters of Pakistani prime minister Imran Khan, center, and Hafiz Saeed, chief of Pakistani religious group Jamaat-ud-Dawa, during a protest against Thursday's attack on a paramilitary convoy in Kashmir.

Indian muslims burn posters of Pakistani prime minister Imran Khan, center, and Hafiz Saeed, chief of Pakistani religious group Jamaat-ud-Dawa, during a protest against Thursday's attack on a paramilitary convoy in Kashmir.Credit:AP

Khan reiterated that Pakistan had nothing to do with the bomb attack and said it was ready to take action against anyone found to be behind it.

"If you have any actionable intelligence that Pakistanis are involved, give that to us, I guarantee you that we will take action," Khan said.

India's Foreign Ministry spurned the offer, saying Islamabad had failed to act on proof given to it about previous attacks. It said there had been no progress in the Pakistani investigation into the 2008 attacks in Mumbai blamed on another Pakistani Islamist militant group.

"Promises of 'guaranteed action' ring hollow given the track record of Pakistan," the ministry said in a statement.

Pakistan's military has a long record of nurturing militants as proxies in pursuit of foreign policy objectives, and India has for years accused Islamabad of supporting jihadists waging a nearly 30-year revolt in its only Muslim-majority state.

Muslim Pakistan has long said it only provides moral and diplomatic support to the Kashmiri people in their struggle for self-determination, though that has never dispelled India's conviction of Pakistani support for militants.

Khan said his country had changed. "I am telling you clearly that this is new Pakistan. This is a new mind set, this is new thinking," he said.

'Surrender or be killed'

Indian security forces have intensified a crackdown in Kashmir in response to the deadliest attack on security forces in three decades of insurgency.

Lieutenant-General KJS Dhillon, India's top military commander in Kashmir, accused Pakistan's main Inter-Services Intelligence spy agency of "controlling" those behind the Thursday bombing and warned of retribution.

"I would request all the mothers in Kashmir to please request their sons who have joined terrorism to surrender and get back to the mainstream," Dhillon said. "Otherwise anyone who has picked up the gun will be killed."

Thursday's bombing was carried out by a 20-year-old man from a village in Indian Kashmir. His parents said he had joined a militant group after being beaten by Indian troops in 2016.

Dhillon did not provide any proof for his accusation that Pakistan's military intelligence agency was behind the blast, only pointing to what he said were its close links with the JeM.

'Sense of urgency'

The United States had told India it supported its right to defend itself against cross-border attacks, India said.

At the same time, Pakistan has a vital role to play in nudging the Afghan Taliban towards peace in Afghanistan in talks with US officials that have raised significant hopes for an end to America's longest war.

Pakistan's ambassador to Afghanistan said an Indian attack on his country would undermine the Afghan peace effort.

"Any attack by India will affect the stability of the entire region and impact the momentum," the ambassador, Zahid Nasrullah, said.

A former deputy Afghan defence minister later said Nasrullah's remarks would anger local government officials, saying it played into fears that the country's long-running civil war was a proxy for rivalries by regional powers.

"A Kashmir problem should be solved in Kashmir, and not on Afghanistan soil," Tamim Asey said. "We don't want to be your battleground."

Pakistan’s close ally China urged it and India to ease tension through talks. "China hopes that Pakistan and India can exercise restraint and hold dialogue to achieve a ‘soft landing’ as soon as possible,” said China's Foreign Ministry spokesman.

Reuters