Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 26 June 2019

Fresh shelling in Kashmir as Pakistan detains 44 members of militant groups

Pakistan is facing international pressure to act against groups carrying out attacks in India

Supporters of the All Pakistan Muslim League Quid chant slogans beside a replica of a missile during an anti-India protest in Karachi. AFP 
Supporters of the All Pakistan Muslim League Quid chant slogans beside a replica of a missile during an anti-India protest in Karachi. AFP 

More violence broke out between Indian and Pakistani forces yesterday, with the two armies accusing each other of firing on outposts on the militarised frontier in Kashmir.

The shelling came despite increased diplomatic efforts to ease tensions after an Indian aircraft crossed into Pakistan last week and Pakistan retaliated by shooting down two Indian jets and capturing a pilot – who was later released.

The incident was the most serious escalation in the Kashmir conflict in years.

The first aircraft was carrying out what India called a pre-emptive strike against militants blamed for a suicide bombing that killed 40 Indian troops in Indian-controlled Kashmir last month.

Pakistan launched a crackdown on Islamist militant groups this week, detaining 44 members of banned organisations, including relatives of Masood Azhar, the leader of Jaish-e-Mohammed, which claimed responsibility for the February 14 attack.

Islamabad is facing international pressure to act against groups carrying out attacks in India. But officials denied that the operation was in response to Indian anger over Pakistan’s failure to rein in militant groups operating on its own soil, and insisted instead that it was part of a long-planned drive against them.

Close relatives of Azhar were detained in “preventative custody” as part of the crackdown, the interior ministry said. It identified them as Mufti Abdul Raoof and Hamad Azhar, who one ministry official said was the leader’s son.

Raoof was named in a dossier of evidence on the Kashmir bombing given to Pakistan by India.

The United States, Britain and France proposed last month that the UN Security Council blacklist Azhar. A Security Council vote is to be held in the middle of this month.

Pakistan also placed two charities linked to Hafiz Saeed, founder of a militant organisation the US and India have blamed for numerous deadly attacks – including a rampage by gunmen in Mumbai in 2008 that killed 166 people – on the country’s official banned list.

Saeed, who holds public gatherings in Pakistan, has been at the heart of criticism that Pakistan does not enforce its anti-militancy laws.

Some of the people detained were named in the India dossier, Interior Secretary Azam Suleman Khan said.

“We are investigating them and if we get more evidence, more proof against them, they will be proceeded against according to law, and if we don’t get any proof their detention will end,” he said.

There was no immediate official reaction in India to the arrests in Pakistan. But an Indian official, speaking to Reuters, was sceptical.

“We have all seen this done for the last several decades now. How many times has Hafiz Saeed been arrested and let out?” he said. “And have they taken action against Jaish camps?”

Pakistani Minister of State for Interior Shehryar Afridi, right, and Pakistan's Interior Secretary Azam Suleman Khan give a press conference in Islamabad, Pakistan, Tuesday, March 5, 2019. AP Photo
Pakistani Minister of State for Interior Shehryar Afridi, right, and Pakistan's Interior Secretary Azam Suleman Khan give a press conference in Islamabad, Pakistan, Tuesday, March 5, 2019. AP Photo

Pakistan cracked down on anti-India militants in the past, but most factions manage to survive and be active.

In a sign of cooling tensions, Pakistan’s foreign ministry said a delegation would visit New Delhi next week to discuss an accord on Sikh pilgrims visiting holy sites in Pakistan.

But that has not stopped flare-ups along the Line of Control that divides the Himalayan territory of Kashmir between India and Pakistan.

Although the line has not been breached since the height of the tensions on Wednesday last week, both sides exchanged mortar fire, that killed at least seven.

On Tuesday, Pakistan said its navy thwarted an attempt by an Indian submarine to enter Pakistan’s waters.

Pakistan said the vessel had not been attacked to maintain “the government’s initiative of peace”. Pakistan’s Prime Minister Imran Khan called for peace talks last week, promising to assist in counter-terrorism operations.

But India dismissed this as propaganda, saying: “Over the past several days, we have witnessed Pakistan indulging in false propaganda and spread of misinformation.”

Updated: March 6, 2019 10:10 PM

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