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Pakistan PM urges talks on Kashmir blast, warns India against attack

Pakistan PM urges talks on Kashmir blast, warns India against attack
FILE PHOTO: Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan attends talks at the Great Hall of the People in Beijing, November 2, 2018. REUTERS/Thomas Peter/Pool/File Photo -
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By Asif Shahzad and Fayaz Bukhari

ISLAMABAD/SRINAGAR, India (Reuters) - Prime Minister Imran Khan said on Tuesday Pakistan was ready to cooperate with India in its investigation of a deadly bombing in the disputed Kashmir region last week, which India blamed on Pakistan, but warned of retaliation if attacked.

Tension between the nuclear-armed neighbours has risen sharply over the killing on Thursday of 40 Indian paramilitary police in a suicide bomb attack claimed by the Pakistan-based Jaish-e-Mohammad (JeM) militant group.

Pakistan has denied any involvement and called for U.N. intervention. But Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi, facing a general election by May, has come under pressure to exact revenge, and has said he has given his security forces a free hand to administer a "strong response".

India's top military commander in Kashmir told mothers to get their militant sons to surrender or see them dead, as security forces intensified a crackdown in response to the deadliest attack on security forces in three decades of insurgency in the Muslim-majority region.

In a televised address, Khan said Pakistan was ready to take action against anyone found to be behind the bomb attack.

"If you have any actionable intelligence that Pakistanis are involved, give that to us, I guarantee you that we will take action," Khan said in the address to the nation.

Pakistan's military has a long record of nurturing militants as proxies in pursuit of foreign-policy objectives, and India has for years accused it of supporting separatist militants fighting a nearly 30-year revolt in its only Muslim-majority state.

Muslim Pakistan has long said it only provides moral and diplomatic support to the Kashmiri people in their struggle for self-determination, though that has never dispelled India's conviction of Pakistani support for militants.

Khan said his country had changed.

"I am telling you clearly that this is new Pakistan. This is a new mind set, this is new thinking," Khan said.

"We want stability."

'WE WILL RETALIATE'

The South Asian neighbours have fought three wars since 1947, two of them over Kashmir. They have fought countless skirmishes along their de facto border, which the United Nations monitors, in the Himalayan region.

Lieutenant-General K.J.S. Dhillon, the Indian commander in Kashmir, accused Pakistan's main Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) spy agency of "controlling" those behind the Thursday bombing and warned of retribution.

"I would request all the mothers in Kashmir to please request their sons who have joined terrorism to surrender and get back to the mainstream," Dhillon told reporters in Srinagar, the summer capital of Jammu and Kashmir state.

"Otherwise anyone who has picked up the gun will be killed."

The bomb attack was carried out by a 20-year-old man from a village in Indian Kashmir. His parents said had joined a militant group after being beaten by Indian troops three years ago.

Dhillon did not provide any proof for his accusation that Pakistan's military intelligence agency was behind the blast, except to note its close links with the JeM.

The bomb attack has sparked outrage in India with calls for revenge circulating on social media, and rising animosity towards Kashmiri Muslims in other parts of the Hindu-majority country, to the alarm of rights groups.

Khan, noting the calls for revenge, said he hoped "better sense will prevail", while issuing his own warning.

"If you think that you will launch any kind of attack on Pakistan, Pakistan will not just think about retaliation, Pakistan will retaliate," Khan said.

"And after that where will it head?"

'SENSE OF URGENCY'

Earlier on Tuesday, Pakistan appealed to the United Nations to intervene, in light of the deteriorating security situation.

"Attributing it to Pakistan even before investigations is absurd," Pakistan's Foreign Minister Shah Mahmood Qureshi said in a letter to the U.N. Secretary General Antonio Guterres seeking U.N. involvement to lower tension.

"It is with a sense of urgency that I draw your attention to the deteriorating security situation in our region resulting from the threat of use of force against Pakistan by India," he said.

The United States had told India it supported its right to defend itself against cross-border attacks, India said.

At the same time, Pakistan has a vital role to play in nudging the Afghan Taliban towards peace in Afghanistan in talks with U.S. officials that have raised significant hopes for an end to America's longest war.

Pakistan’s close ally China urged the two countries to ease tension through talks.

"China hopes that Pakistan and India can exercise restraint and hold dialogue, to achieve a ‘soft landing’ as soon as possible,” said China's foreign ministry spokesman.

Jammu and Kashmir, a former princely state on the border between India and Pakistan, has been in dispute since the partition of India in 1947. Control is split between the two countries but each claims the region in full.

(Reporting by Fayaz Bukhari, Zeba Siddiqui, Asif Shahzad and Syed Raza Hassan; Additional reporting by Ben Blanchard in BEIJING; Writing by Sanjeev Miglani and Krishna N. Das; Editing by Robert Birsel)

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