New Delhi, Feb 20 (AP/UNB) — Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman on Wednesday offered intelligence sharing and other cooperation with India in fighting extremism and terrorism, as New Delhi tackled rising tensions with Pakistan following a suicide bombing last week on Indian paramilitary soldiers in disputed Kashmir.
The crown prince, with India's Prime Minister Narendra Modi by his side, told reporters that he "shared India's concern on terrorism." He did not make any reference to Pakistan, but said his visit to India will improve centuries-old ties between the countries, which he said are "in our DNA."
Modi is under heavy pressure from his supporters to punish Pakistan for the suicide attack. India placed the blame for the bombing squarely on Pakistan, which it accuses of supporting rebels in Kashmir, a charge that Islamabad denies.
Modi in his remarks at the media briefing referred to the attack on Indian soldiers and said that effective steps would be taken to punish the perpetrators and their supporters. He didn't elaborate.
"Saudi Arabia and India share views on increasing cooperation in counterterrorism and tackling cybercrimes," he said.
Modi also called for a strong action plan for combating extremism so that the powers spreading violence and terror cannot mislead the youth.
The two sides signed agreements for promoting investment, infrastructure, tourism, housing and communications. Their two-way trade totaled $27.5 billion last year.
The Saudi side also signed the framework agreement on the International Solar Alliance, a treaty-based international body for the promotion of efficient exploitation of solar energy to reduce dependence on fossil fuels, according to India's External Affairs Ministry. It was launched by India and France on the sidelines of the 2015 Paris Climate Conference.
The agreement aims at creating credit mechanisms, crowd funding and sharing of technological breakthroughs to promote solar energy in 121 countries associated with the treaty.
Prince Mohammed said he saw a potential for $100 billion investment in energy, agriculture, technology, culture and social services and said the two countries would evolve a strategy for mutual gains. He said that Saudi Arabia had invested $44 billion in India since 2016.
He also noted that "since we remember ourselves, we know Indian people as friends, and they are part of building Saudi Arabia in the past 70 years." These relations would improve for the sake of both countries, he told reporters.
His trip to India comes five months after he came under intense pressure following the killing of journalist Jamal Khashoggi at the Saudi Consulate in Istanbul. In keeping with a long-standing policy of not commenting on countries' internal affairs, India declined to take a position on the Washington Post columnist's killing by suspected Saudi agents at the consulate.
The crown prince arrived in India on Tuesday night after visiting cash-strapped Islamabad, which voiced support for him amid the international outcry over Khashoggi's killing. The Saudi delegation signed $20 billion in investment deals and vowed to free thousands of Pakistani prisoners in Saudi custody.
India describes Saudi Arabia as a "key pillar" of its energy security. It provides about 17 percent of India's crude oil and about a third of its liquefied natural gas.
The relationship is likely to become more significant as a deadline nears for India to comply with U.S. sanctions against Iran, one of India's main oil providers.
Ties between India and Saudi Arabia, where millions of Indians are employed as migrant workers, have strengthened since Modi visited Riyadh in 2016 for the signing of a memorandum of understanding on cooperation with intelligence-gathering on money laundering and terrorism financing.
Prince Mohammed will leave New Delhi later Wednesday, according to India's External Affairs Ministry.
He will pay a two-day visit to China beginning Thursday.
Islamabad, Feb 20 (AP/UNB) — Pakistan's prime minister offered to hold talks with India, even as he warned New Delhi to refrain from launching any attacks on his country following last week's suicide bombing in Indian-controlled Kashmir.
Imran Khan said he hoped "better sense" would prevail after the attack on a paramilitary convoy that killed at least 40 Indian troops. But he warned in a televised speech Tuesday that if India attacks, "Pakistan will not merely think of retaliation, but rather, we will retaliate."
U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres urged both sides "to exercise maximum restraint and take immediate steps to de-escalate tensions," U.N. spokesman Stephane Dujarric said.
He said the U.N. chief's "good offices are available if accepted by both sides."
Since independence from Britain in 1947, Pakistan and India have fought two of their three wars over Kashmir, which is divided between the two countries but claimed by each in its entirety.
The U.N. Security Council in 1948 called for a plebiscite "as soon as possible" on the future of the Himalayan territory but it has never been held. A U.N. peacekeeping mission has been in the region since 1949.
The bombing last Thursday in which a militant rammed an explosive-laden van into a paramilitary bus was the worst attack against Indian government forces in the history of Kashmir, where rebels have been fighting Indian rule since 1989.
India has blamed Pakistan and threatened a "jaw-breaking response." Islamabad condemned the attack and cautioned India against linking Pakistan to the bombing without an investigation.
"If you have any actionable evidence, share it with us and we will take action," Khan said. "We are ready to cooperate with India in the investigations."
"I hope better sense will prevail," he added.
His remarks were in response to Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi's announcement that his security forces have been given "total freedom" to deal with the militants in Kashmir.
Hours later, India's External Affairs Ministry said in a statement it was surprised that Khan "refuses to acknowledge the attack on our security forces in Pulwama as an act of terrorism" and that the Pakistani premier "has neither chosen to condemn this heinous act, nor condoled with the bereaved families."
It said Khan ignored claims of responsibility made by Jaish-e-Mohammad, as well as by the assailant who perpetrated the crime.
"It is a well-known fact that Jaish-e-Mohammad and its leader Masood Azhar are based in Pakistan. These should be sufficient proof for Pakistan to take action," it said.
It said Khan sought evidence from New Delhi, which was "a lame excuse" as India had given evidence to Islamabad following the Mumbai attacks in 2008 and "despite this, the case has not progressed for the last more than 10 years."
"Pakistan claims to be the greatest victim of terrorism. This is far from the truth. The international community is well acquainted with the reality that Pakistan is the nerve center of terrorism," it said.
Azhar was released from custody in India in 1999, in exchange for more than 150 hostages from a hijacked Indian Airlines flight.
India and Pakistan have both recalled their ambassadors since the attack, and Pakistan called on the U.N. to help defuse tensions.
Pakistan's Foreign Minister Shah Mahmood Qureshi sent a letter to Secretary-General Guterres saying that "for domestic political reasons, India has deliberately ratcheted up its hostile rhetoric against Pakistan and created a tense environment."
Pakistan's U.N. Ambassador Maleeha Lodhi met later with Guterres at U.N. headquarters in New York and said she told him "we are on the cusp of a very dangerous situation in South Asia."
Noting India's threats "to teach Pakistan a lesson," she said she stressed to Guterres that "we don't want to go down this path."
"We would like to see a dialogue resume between Pakistan and India," Lodhi told AP. "We are ready to talk on terrorism, on Kashmir — all the issues which are outstanding between the two countries."
She said Guterres reminded her that he previously offered "his good offices," but India didn't accept.
Lodhi said she also met with the Security Council president and asked him to informally brief members about the emerging situation.
"We're here to warn the international community that something much more dangerous can happen, and it's important for at least the U.N. and the rest of the international community to step in and prevent further escalation," she said.
The Ministry of External Affairs said it had no comment on Pakistan's letter to the U.N.
A senior Indian military official in Kashmir, Lt. Gen. K.J.S. Dhillon, on Tuesday told reporters that Indian forces killed the chief of the Jaish-e-Mohammed militant group behind the suicide bombing and a gunbattle Monday in Kashmir. Four Indian soldiers, three suspected militants, a police official and a civilian were killed in the clash.
The leader was a Pakistani national by the name of Kamran, Dhillon said.
Jaish-e-Mohammed is outlawed in Pakistan but thought to operate from safe havens there.
Pakistan did not immediately comment on Dhillon's remarks.
Dhaka, Feb 19 (UNB) - In a video message, Prime Minister Imran Khan on Tuesday said Islamabad will take action if Delhi shares any actionable evidence concerning last week's suicide bombing in occupied Kashmir's Pulwama area which had targeted Indian paramilitary soldiers, reports the Dawn.
While offering cooperation and another chance at a dialogue over the Kashmir issue, the premier also warned India against any act of aggression, saying Pakistan will not hesitate in retaliating to a provocation.
However, he made it clear that he hopes better sense will prevail.
The premier explained he had wanted to respond to the attack right away because Delhi had accused Pakistan of having a hand in the attack, "but we had a very important visit from the crown prince of Saudi Arabia, we had an investment conference happening that we had been preparing for for a long time," he explained.
"Therefore, I decided not to respond then, because the attention would have been diverted away from the visit and onto this issue."
"This is why I am responding [now], now that the crown prince has left. And this [message] is for the Indian government," he said.
"First of all, you accused Pakistan. [There was] no evidence. You never thought: 'What would be in it for Pakistan?'," he said. "Would even a fool do such a thing to sabotage his own conference? And even if he [the crown prince] had not been visiting, what benefit would Pakistan get from it [the Pulwama attack]?"
"Why would Pakistan, at this stage, when it is moving towards stability ─ we have fought a war against terrorism for 15 years, 70,000 Pakistanis have lost their lives, terrorism is receding, peace and stability are returning ─ what benefit would we get from it [the Pulwama attack]?" he asked.
"You wish to remain stuck in the past, and each time something happens in Kashmir, you want to hold Pakistan responsible. Instead of trying to resolve the Kashmir issue, start a dialogue or move forward, you want to make Islamabad your whipping boy again and again," the prime minister said, addressing Delhi.
"I am telling you clearly, this is naya Pakistan. It is a new mindset, a new way of thinking. We believe that it is in our interest that our soil is not used for carrying out terrorist attacks in other countries, nor do we want outsiders to come and carry out terror attacks here. We desire stability," he asserted.
"Today, I would like to make the Indian government an offer. Any sort of investigation you wish carried out regarding this incident about the involvement of any Pakistani, we are ready [for it].
"If you have any actionable intelligence that a Pakistani is involved, give it to us. I guarantee you that we will take action ─ not because we are under pressure, but because they [any individuals found involved] are acting as enemies of Pakistan."
"If someone is using Pakistan's soil [to carry out terror attacks elsewhere], it is [akin to] enmity with us. It is against our interests."
The prime minister added that whenever Pakistan tries to initiate dialogue with India, Delhi's precondition is that terrorism must be talked about.
"We are ready to talk about terrorism. Terrorism is a regional issue [...] We want terrorism in the region to end," he stated. "Pakistan has been the worst affected by terrorism [...] Therefore, we are ready to talk with you."
"[However,] in India, there needs to be a new way of thinking, some introspection: what is the reason these Kashmiri youths have gotten to the point where they have no fear of death anymore? There must be some reason," he said.
"Do you think that this one-dimensional oppression, cruelty, using military to cause issues ─ if they haven't been successful till today, do you think they will be successful in the future?" the prime minister asked, referring to the oppressive tactics used by the Indian government to suppress the local population in occupied Kashmir.
"If today in Afghanistan, after 17 years, the entire world has accepted that there is no military solution and that the issue can only be resolved through dialogue, shouldn't there be discussion about this in India?" he asked.
"We are hearing the voices in India that say 'Pakistan must be taught a lesson', 'Revenge must be taken from Pakistan', 'There should be a strike' ... First of all, what law gives any country to become judge, jury and executioner?" he asked. "What sort of [sense of] justice is this?"
"Secondly, you are facing an election year. And we believe that during the election, [you think] you will get a big boost if you 'teach Pakistan a lesson'," he said.
"If you think that if you can carry out any kind of attack on Pakistan, Pakistan will not just think about retaliating, we will retaliate. There will be no way to respond other than to retaliate," the prime minister warned.
"And after that, where does the matter go? We all know that starting a war is easy. [But] starting a war may be in our hands, ending it won't be. Where it [the tide of war] will go, God knows. That's why I hope that better sense will prevail."
"This issue will only be resolved through dialogue and talks," he concluded.
Islamabad, Feb 19 (AP/UNB) — Pakistan recalled its ambassador from India and appealed Tuesday for U.N. help to de-escalate and defuse tensions with New Delhi after last week's attack in India's sector of disputed Kashmir that killed at least 40 Indian troops.
Tensions between the two nuclear-armed neighbors soared following the attack in which a militant rammed an explosive-laden van into a paramilitary bus last Thursday. It was the worst attack against Indian government forces in Kashmir's history. On Monday, four Indian soldiers, three suspected militants, a police official and a civilian were killed as Indian soldiers searched for militants.
India blamed the attack on Pakistan and promised a "jaw-breaking response" while Pakistan warned India against linking it to the attack without an investigation.
According to Tuesday's statement, Pakistan's Foreign Minister Shah Mahmood Qureshi sent a letter to U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres alleging that "for domestic political reasons, India has deliberately ratcheted up its hostile rhetoric against Pakistan and created a tense environment."
Also, Pakistani Ambassador Suhail Mahmood was asked Monday to return home from India, after New Delhi recalled its own envoy from Islamabad.
"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," Qureshi said.
There were expectations that Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, who concluded a two-day visit to Pakistan on Monday and travelled on to India, could encourage the two South Asian neighbors to try to resolve their issues through talks.
India's Ministry of External Affairs said it had no comment on Pakistan's letter to the U.N.
India and Pakistan each administer a part of Kashmir, but both claim the territory in its entirety. They have fought two of their three wars over it.
Rebels have been fighting Indian rule since 1989, demanding Indian-controlled Kashmir be united either under Pakistani rule or established as an independent country.
India, Feb 19 (AP/UNB) — Tensions escalated after a suicide attack in disputed Kashmir, with nine people killed Monday in a gunbattle that broke out as Indian soldiers searched for militants.
Government forces surrounded a village in the southern Pulwama area on a tip that militants were hiding there, security officials said. As troops began conducting searches, they came under heavy gunfire, leading to a clash that killed four soldiers, three suspected militants, a police official and a civilian.
Three army officers, a senior police officer and three other soldiers were wounded in the operation, which follows the suicide attack last Thursday on a paramilitary convoy that killed at least 40 soldiers, the worst attack against Indian government forces in Kashmir's history.
India blamed the attack on Pakistan and promised a "jaw-breaking response." Pakistan has warned India against linking it to the attack without an investigation, saying that it was part of New Delhi's "known rhetoric and tactics" to divert global attention from human rights violations in Kashmir.
India and Pakistan each administer part of Kashmir, but both claim the Muslim-majority region in its entirety.
The attack has led to a spike in communal tensions in Hindu-majority India.
Videos of anti-Kashmiri protests have gone viral on social media, including some in which Kashmiri students were beaten by mobs of Hindu nationalist groups and warned to leave colleges and universities.
On the outskirts of the northern city of Ambala, about 300 Kashmiri students were forced to leave their rented accommodations by local Hindu residents, at least three students reached by phone told The Associated Press.
One of the students who asked to be identified by only his middle name, Ahmed, due to fear of reprisals from his university, said he and his fellow students felt unsafe despite police security.
The Kashmiri students blamed Prime Minister Narendra Modi's Hindu nationalist ruling party for stoking anti-Muslim and anti-Kashmiri sentiment in India ahead of a general election due this year.
In another northern city, Dehradun, at least 20 Kashmiri students were forced to lock themselves in their hostel rooms for safety until police arrived, The Times of India newspaper reported. Police in Dehradun said the students were safe but refused to comment further.
Vijay Kumar, a top government adviser, said they received several complaints from students and businesspeople, and authorities were "doing everything possible for the security" of Kashmiris. He said authorities have spoken with officials in various cities and also set up help centers for Kashmiris living outside the state.
Reports of harassment elsewhere in India have triggered public anger in Kashmir, where authorities have suspended internet service on mobile phones and slowed other internet sources to try to stop the spread of videos or the organization of protests.
The Indian chapter of Amnesty International urged India's federal and state governments to "ensure that ordinary Kashmiri women and men do not face targeted attacks, harassment and arbitrary arrests" following Thursday's suicide bombing.
"We are at a dangerous moment, and authorities must do everything they can to uphold the rule of law," said Aakar Patel, head of Amnesty International India. "Ordinary Kashmiris across India who are only seeking to improve their lives should not be singled out for violence simply because of where they come from."
The statement said many students are reported to have fled their universities in fear. "Two colleges in Dehradun and one in Moradabad have stated that they will not admit new Kashmiri students," it said.
Monday's fighting in Kashmir triggered anti-India protests and clashes, with local residents, mainly youths, trying to march to the site of the gunbattle in solidarity with the rebels. Government forces fired tear gas at the stone-throwing protesters. No one was immediately reported injured in the clashes.
Residents said troops destroyed five civilian houses with explosives and gasoline during the fighting. Police said they recovered the bodies of the dead militants from the debris. A civilian was also killed in the crossfire, police said.
The dead soldiers included an Indian army major. Police said two militants were killed in the initial fighting, which resumed after a lull of about four hours, leading to the killing of a third militant and injuries to several soldiers and a police officer.
Rebels have been fighting Indian control in Kashmir since 1989 and the uprising and ensuing crackdown have killed about 70,000 people.
Most Kashmiris support the rebels' demand that the territory be united either under Pakistani rule or as an independent country, while also participating in civilian street protests against Indian control.