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ISLAMABAD: With tensions between Pakistan and India increasing in the aftermath of a deadly suicide attack in India-held Kashmir despite Islamabad’s rejection of insinuations about its involvement in it, New Delhi called back High Commissioner Ajay Bisaria for consultations and the two countries summoned each other’s diplomats to lodge their protests.

India also announced measures to diplomatically isolate Pakistan and said it had decided to withdraw the Most Favoured Nation (MFN) status granted to Islamabad.

In his reaction to the attack, Foreign Office spokesman Dr Muhammad Faisal expressed “grave concern” over it, reminded everyone of Pakistan’s condemnation of “heightened acts of violence in Kashmir Valley”, and strongly rejected attempts by the Indian government and media “to link the attack to State of Pakistan without investigations”.

But briefing the media after a meeting of the Cabinet Committee on Security (CCS), India’s Finance Minister Arun Jaitley said outside Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s residence that the Ministry of External Affairs would announce the diplomatic steps to be taken against Pakistan.

A notification would be issued by the Commerce Ministry, withdrawing the MFN status unilaterally granted in 1996, he said.

New Delhi says it has decided to withdraw Most Favoured Nation status granted to Islamabad; FO rejects attempts by Indian govt, media to link attack to Pakistan

Pakistan’s High Commissioner to India, Sohail Mahmood, was summoned to External Affairs Ministry, where according to an Indian source, “a very strong demarche” was handed over to him by Indian Foreign Secretary Vijay Gokhale, demanding action against Jaish-e-Mohammad (JeM).

JeM had claimed the suicide attack on a Central Reserve Police Force bus in Pulwama area of India-held Kashmir on Thursday in which 44 personnel of the force were killed. It was one of the deadliest attacks in India-held Kashmir by an armed group in nearly two decades.

JeM, which is led by radical cleric Masood Azhar, has already been designated as a terrorist group by the US.

HC Mahmood was told that Pakistan must take “immediate and verifiable action” against JeM. Pakistan, according to the source, was also told to act against all “groups and individuals associated with terrorism allegedly operating from Pakistani territory”.

Acting Indian High Commissioner in Islamabad was summoned to the Foreign Office in Islamabad, where Additional Secretary for Asia-Pacific Imtiaz Ahmed lodged a protest with him over allegations being levelled against Pakistan about the attack. HC Bisaria was on his way to New Delhi after being called back for consultations.

A video of the Indian diplomat’s arrival at the FO was leaked to media apparently because the Indian side had on at least two occasions in the past leaked the videos of HC Mahmood’s visits to the External Affairs Ministry for receiving protest.

The FO did not share any details of what was conveyed to the Indian diplomat.

Speaking at a public function just after Mr Jaitley’s media briefing, Prime Minister Modi assured Indians that the perpetrators of the Kashmir attack would be punished. He said it was important that the country spoke in one voice over the incident, adding that India would give a befitting response to the attack.

“We will give a befitting reply; our neighbour will not be allowed to destabilise us,” he said.

Indian forces had been “given total freedom” to deal with the fighters, he said. “Security forces have been given permission to take decisions about the timing, place and nature of their response.”

He called on the international community to stand together to defeat terrorism.

Both Pakistan’s FO and Indian External Affairs Ministry held briefings for the P-5 countries on the developing situation after the attack. P-5 refers to the five permanent members of the UN Security Council.

Foreign Secretary Tehmina Janjua, while briefing the envoys, rejected the Indian allegations. She noted that India was following the familiar pattern of accusing Pakistan even before investigating the matter.

“Pakistan has pursued a constructive approach toward India,” she told the diplomats and recalled Pakistan’s offer of dialogue and the Kartarpur initiative. She said the two initiatives were a clear evidence of Pakistani intentions.

“Ratcheting up tensions in the region will be counterproductive,” she emphasised.

Our correspondent in New Delhi contributed to this report

Published in Dawn, February 16th, 2019