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KARACHI: Inter-Services Public Relations (ISPR) chief Maj Gen Asif Ghafoor on Wednesday said that the ball was now in India’s court and warned that the situation would go bad if New Delhi decided to opt for further escalation.

In an interview with CNN, the ISPR director general said it was up to New Delhi to follow Pakistan’s decision of releasing captured Indian pilot as a peace gesture and decide whether it wanted to move towards de-escalation or continue pursuing a warmongering agenda.

He admitted that both countries had come “close to war” following India’s act of aggression in dropping bombs in a Balakot area. The next day, Pakistan responded by striking “non-military targets” across the Line of Control. Two Indian jets, which violated Pakistan’s airspace after the air force’s strikes, were shot down and an Indian pilot was captured. Pakistan released the pilot two days later as a “gesture of peace”.

He added that both countries had increased the number of troops posted along the Line of Control (LoC) as the situation there remained tense.

The ISPR DG also rubbished India’s claims of having targeted a Jaish-e-Muhammad (JeM) establishment in Balakot which resulted in the alleged killing of a very large number of militants, saying that “not a single brick was harmed and no bodies were found”.

“Indian claims are false,” he stated and pointed out that Indian officials themselves had admitted that they could not determine the number of casualties inflicted.

Maj Gen Ghafoor asks the international community to help Pakistan in its fight against terrorism

Elaborating on the government’s decision to act against JeM, the ISPR spokesperson shot down Indian claims over the Feb 14 Pulwama attack. “First of all, the claim was not made from within Pakistan since JeM does not exist in the country. It was proscribed by Pakistan and the United Nations,” he told CNN.

Earlier this week, the government had decided to launch a “decisive” crackdown against militant groups. Authorities have already taken over the administration of multiple mosques and seminaries that were said to be linked to extremist groups including JeM and Jamaatud Dawa (JuD).

Yesterday, the officials of the Ministry of Interior announced that 44 members of banned outfits, including Mufti Abdul Raoof and Hamad Azhar, had been taken in “preventive detention”.

Perhaps pre-empting criticism on the timing of Pakistan’s new crackdown against extremist groups, the ISPR DG said Pakistan was not taking these measures “under anyone’s pressure”.

He urged the international community to assist Pakistan in its fight against terrorism instead of levelling allegations alone.

“Anybody who operates from Pakistan [against other countries] is ... we feel that it is not in the interest of Pakistan. Instead of blaming Pakistan, the world should assist Pakistan, facilitate Pakistan in getting rid of such organisations,” said Maj Gen Ghafoor.

When asked to reflect on what triggered the Pulwama attack on Indian soldiers in the disputed valley, the military spokesperson said the answer could be found in the recent report on India-held Kashmir issued by the United Nations Human Rights Commission. The report, which the UN said was the first of its kind for Kashmir, was released last year and highlighted chronic impunity for violations committed by [Indian] security forces.

“When you suppress a population to the extent that they are being killed, raped, being shot with pellet guns, there is a natural reaction,” Maj Gen Ghafoor said.

“We have to move towards the resolution of Kashmir [issue] because the issue is a flashpoint for peace in the region,” he concluded.

Published in Dawn, March 7th, 2019