India on Friday announced the withdrawal of Most Favoured Nation status for Pakistan.
The move followed a cabinet meeting during which Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi was briefed on a recent attack on Indian security forces in occupied Kashmir, in which 44 paramilitary soldiers were killed, Indian media reported.
Indian Finance Minister Arun Jaitley in a press briefing said that Modi's cabinet had decided to initiate steps to ensure complete diplomatic isolation of Pakistan.
"The MFN status that had been granted to Pakistan stands withdrawn," he added. In the World Trade Organization (WTO), this status means non-discrimination — treating virtually everyone equally.
"The Ministry of External Affairs (MEA) will initiate all possible steps ─ and I'm referring to [...] diplomatic steps ─ which have to be taken to ensure the complete isolation from the international community of Pakistan," Jaitley said on Friday, adding that there is "incontrovertible evidence" of Pakistan "having a direct hand in this gruesome terrorist incident".
Pakistan's High Commissioner to India Sohail Mahmood was summoned by the Indian external affairs ministry and issued a "strong démarche" in connection with the attack, The Hindu reported.
Also on Friday, Indian High Commissioner to Pakistan Ajay Bisaria was recalled by New Delhi for consultations in the aftermath of the attack. The envoy is currently on his way to India, a spokesperson for the Indian High Commission, Shubham Singh, told DawnNewsTV.
Following Thursday's attack, Islamabad had strongly rejected any insinuation that sought to link the attack to Pakistan without investigations. "We have always condemned acts of violence anywhere in the world," the Foreign Office said.
"We strongly reject any insinuation by elements in the Indian media and government that seek to link the attack to Pakistan without investigations," the spokesperson had asserted.
It is pertinent to mention here that Indian investigators have yet to reach Pulwama, the site of the attack. A 12-member National Investigation Agency team left for occupied Kashmir around 11am to help police conduct a "forensic evaluation" of the site of the attack, NDTV reported.
The Indian finance minister said that the foreign ministry would "also engage with the international community to make sure that the comprehensive convention on international terrorism, which has been pending for over three decades before the United Nations, particularly because of the definition of the word terrorism, is now adopted at the earliest."
"As far as our security forces are concerned, we will be taking all possible steps, firstly to ensure that full security is maintained, and secondly, to ensure that those who have committed this heinous act of terrorism and those who have supported it actively are made to pay a heavy cost for it," he said.
The finance minister said that Indian Home Minister Rajnath Singh would be leaving for Srinagar with a team of officials. Upon his return, he will be calling an all-parties meeting to brief them on the situation, Jaitley said.
Meanwhile, Modi, while speaking at an event on Friday, said the country will give a “strong response” to this attack. The “blood of the people is boiling” and forces behind the act of terrorism will be definitely be punished, he was quoted as saying by Hindustan Times.
Without naming Pakistan, PM Modi claimed “if our neighbour, which is totally isolated in the world and thinks it can destabilise India through its tactics and conspiracies, then it is making a huge mistake”.
Even though the investigation is in its preliminary stages, the US singled out Pakistan in its statement late Thursday night condemning the attack.
“The United States calls on Pakistan to end immediately the support and safe haven provided to all terrorist groups operating on its soil, whose only goal is to sow chaos, violence, and terror in the region,” the statement from the White House press secretary’s office said, according to AP. It said the attack strengthened US resolve to bolster counterterrorism cooperation with India.
'Islamabad makes no gains from such an attack'
PPP Senator Sherry Rehman, in response to the move, said: "Modi’s India is escalating its response to a heinous #KashmirTerrorAttack by premising Pakistan’s hand in it."
"Yet Islamabad makes no gains from such an attack," she pointed out. "Instead of a political response to years of brutal repression in Kashmir, hysteria is being amplified against Pakistan."
At least 44 Indian paramilitary soldiers were killed on Thursday in occupied Kashmir in the deadliest attack on security forces since 2002.
The attack, surpassing one in 2016 when 19 soldiers died, saw explosives packed inside a van rip through buses in a convoy of 78 vehicles carrying some 2,500 members of the paramilitary Central Reserve Police Force (CRPF).
Two blue buses carrying around 35 people each bore the brunt of the explosion around 20 kilometres from the main city of Srinagar on the main highway towards Jammu.
Some of the bodies were so badly blown up that officials feel it may take some time to identity them, PTI reported. The convoy was bringing the troopers back from leave to rejoin active service.
Jaish-e-Mohammad (JeM) claimed responsibility, saying it was a suicide attack, according to The Hindu.
With additional reporting by Naveed Siddiqui in Islamabad.