By James Mackenzie and Asif Shahzad
RAWALPINDI, Pakistan (Reuters) – Pakistan will respond to any attack by India with “full force”, the army said on Friday amid heightened tensions between the nuclear-armed neighbours, as Islamabad said it took over the base of a militant group that claimed a deadly bombing in Kashmir.
Army spokesman Major General Asif Ghafoor was speaking a week after a Pakistani-based militant group Jaish-e-Mohammed claimed responsibility for a suicide car bomb attack that killed 40 Indian paramilitary policemen in the Himalayan region disputed between India and Pakistan.
Pakistan late on Friday announced a takeover of Jaish’s headquarters in a southern Punjab province district bordering India.
Jaish, an Islamist jihadi group that fights for the independence of the disputed Kashmir region from India, has offices and infrastructure in Pakistan where its chief Maulana Masood Azhar is based.
Authorities took over Jaish’s headquarters in Bahawalpur and appointed an administrator to look after its affairs, a government statement said. It said the headquarters and an attached seminary has 600 students and 70 teachers.
India’s top military commander in the region has alleged Pakistan’s main Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) spy agency was involved in the attack.
“We have no intention to initiate war, but we will respond with full force to full spectrum threat that would surprise you,” Ghafoor told reporters in the garrison city of Rawalpindi. “Don’t mess with Pakistan.”
The army’s response came two days after Prime Minister Imran Khan urged India to share any actionable evidence, offering full cooperation in investigating the blast.
He also offered talks with India on all issues, including terrorism, which India has always sought as a pre-requisite to any dialogue between the two arch-rivals.
India and Pakistan have fought two wars since independence in 1947 over Kashmir, which both the countries claim entirely.
Ghafoor also reiterated the talks offer.
“Kashmir is a regional issue,” he said. “Let us talk about it. Let us resolve it.”
India blames Pakistani Islamist militant groups for infiltrating into its part of Kashmir to fuel an insurgency and help separatist movements.
Washington and Delhi allege that the Pakistani army nurtures the militants to use them as a foreign policy tools to expand power in neighbouring India and Afghanistan. The army denies that.
One such group is Lashkar-e-Taiba (LeT), which India blamed for attacks in Mumbai in 2008 which killed 166 people, saying its founder, Hafiz Saeed, was the mastermind.
The United States has offered a $10 million reward for information leading to his conviction over the Mumbai attacks.
Pakistan has put him under house arrest several times and banned his Islamist groups, Jamaat-ud-Dawa (JuD) and Falah-e-Insaniat Foundation (FIF), which the United States and the United Nations say are terrorist fronts for the LeT.
Islamabad reinstated the ban on the groups yet again on Thursday, but Saeed remains free, allowed to roam the country and make public speeches and give sermons.
(Reporting by James Mackenzie; Writing by Asif Shahzad; Editing by Nick Macfie, William Maclean)