NEW DELHI: Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi lashed out at Pakistan on Saturday accusing it of “exporting terrorists” after a deadly attack on an army base that New Delhi has blamed on militants from across the Line of Control.

A day earlier, Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif rejected the Indian allegations about the Uri attack as “irresponsible” and “without any evidence”.

Speaking to reporters in London, where he arrived on Friday after addressing the UN General Assembly on Wednesday, Mr Sharif said that before accusing Pakistan, India should have looked at its atrocious role in held Kashmir. He also spoke about the brutalities being perpetrated by the Indian forces in the Valley.

PM Sharif said the Uri attack could have been the reaction of these atrocities, as the close relatives and near and dear ones of those killed and blinded over the last two months were hurt and outraged.

Unmoved by Pakistan’s explanation, Mr Modi exhorted Pakistani people to “grill” their rulers, and said that though India was prepared to take up their rulers’ challenge of a thousand-year war, he would want both countries to wage war on poverty and poor human development indices.

“Let us wage war on poverty, let’s wage war on infant mortality and maternal mortality rates. Let us wage war in our own countries and see who wins.”

The Indian prime minister was speaking at a meeting of the Bharatiya Janata Party in the southern state of Kerala, which flaunts India’s best human development indices.

“Ask your leaders and your rulers, why they talk of Kashmir when they are not able to manage PoK (Azad Kashmir), when they could not keep East Pakistan with them, when they cannot manage Sindh, nor the Pakhtuns, leave alone Balochistan?”

He alleged that Pakistan was behaving like a spoiler of Asia’s future.

“All of Asia is looking to the 21st century with hope, except one country, which is busy exporting terrorism, blood and mayhem in the region and beyond.”

Mr Modi spoke in Hindi and in an unusual concession allowed an interpreter for the mostly Malayalam-speaking party workers.

There seemed to be little enthusiasm for much of his address, though there was applause when he said his government had helped the safe return of Kerala nurses after they were kidnapped in a war zone in the Middle East.

There was applause again when he said he would not let the soldiers’ sacrifices go in vain. But he stopped short of suggesting any military response to the killing of 18 Indian soldiers in Uri by militants. He described the suspected militants as terrorists allegedly exported from Pakistan. His challenge appeared to be directed at the terrorists, and not so much at Pakistan.

However, he did say that India would work for Pakistan’s complete isolation because of its alleged role in the promotion of terrorism in the region.

Mr Modi seemed to be disappointed by Mr Sharif’s speech at the UN though he didn’t mention his name.

“The leaders who read speeches written by masters of terrorists should have no relevance for the future of your country,” he said to ordinary Pakistanis. He also addressed school-children in Pakistan and said both countries needed to spread education among all the citizens. “Let us wage this war in both countries, and see who wins.”

The speech clearly disappointed the hawks in the establishment. Major Gaurav Arya, a popular analyst on the Times Now rightwing TV channel, said Mr Modi should have called out for military action. He said the country was waiting to hear his response to the tragedy of the soldiers in Uri. If there was such idea in the prime minister’s mind, he left it unsaid. Much of his cabinet was on the dais, including Defence Minister Manohar Parrikar and Home Minister Rajnath Singh who have both spoken of unspecified retaliation against Pakistan to the Uri killings.

Published in Dawn, September 25th, 2016