Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif on Friday played down India’s surgical strikes across the Line of Control, saying Pakistan is fully prepared to defend itself against aggression, as he sought to keep the focus on Kashmir by describing the issue as an “unfinished agenda of Partition”.
Chairing a special meeting of his cabinet a day after the raids by Indian troops, Sharif repeated Pakistan’s rejection of the surgical strikes and said New Delhi had resorted to “unprovoked firing” on the LoC.
He also signalled his government’s intent to project the Kashmir issue as the source of tensions between the two sides, calling for an investigation under the UN into “killings of innocent civilians” and reiterating Pakistan’s commitment to provide political, moral and diplomatic support to the Kashmiri people.
Sharif said his government wants peace in the region to pursue its development agenda but would defend the “homeland against any aggression”, according to an official statement.
“The entire nation is standing shoulder to shoulder with our armed forces. No one will be allowed to cast an evil eye against Pakistan. Kashmir is the unfinished agenda of Partition, which cannot be wished away,” he said. The people and leadership would “counter any aggressive Indian designs”, he added.
As the cabinet reviewed the situation in Kashmir and ceasefire violations on the LoC, Pakistan Army chief Gen Raheel Sharif told troops at a training facility near the Lahore Garrison that the “highest state of vigil is being maintained along LoC/working boundary and all along international border”.
“Any misadventure by our adversary will meet the most befitting response from Pakistan,” the army chief said, adding Islamabad “can’t be coerced through any amount of malicious propaganda”. The general also said that “training in peace time is the only guarantor of averting and winning war if imposed”.
The air force chief too issued a statement in Islamabad that said any surgical strike by India would be met in kind.
During the cabinet meeting, Prime Minister Sharif said Pakistan’s “commitment for peace must not be construed as weakness”. Pakistan will take all necessary steps to protect its territorial integrity in case of “any aggression or violation of LoC”, he added.
India said on Thursday its special forces had carried out strikes on several terror launch pads across the 742-km LoC and inflicted significant casualties. The Pakistan Army denied the strikes and said there was “cross-border firing” that killed two soldiers.
The cabinet criticised “provocative statements” by the Indian leadership that accused Pakistan of being behind the Uri attack “without any evidence”. The official statement said the “Indian statements and actions are aimed to deflect international community’s attention from the situation” in Kashmir.
The cabinet said Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s statements had provided “fresh evidence of Indian involvement in subversive and terrorist activities in Pakistan”.
As part of its efforts to keep the focus on Kashmir, the cabinet said Pakistan will continue to highlight Indian “excesses” in Kashmir at the international level.
Tensions between India and Pakistan spiked after the killing of militant commander Burhan Wani sparked violent protests in Kashmir that left dozens dead. Pakistan angered India by referring to Wani as a “Kashmiri leader” and Sharif devoted much of his speech at the UN General Assembly to the Kashmir issue.
Observers said the cabinet meeting came at a time when the military has taken the lead in condemning “aggression” by India. “What we are seeing is that the civilian leadership wants things to cool down while the army high command wants to up the ante,” said analyst Talat Masood, a retired general.
Masood said this had turned into a popularity contest in Pakistan, with the civilian government falling short of replying in the same coin to the Modi government. “The army has seized the moment and is being seen as the saviour of the country,” he said.
As a response, the civilian leadership is trying to make amends, observers said. They said the tensions with India were playing out in terms of the relations between the civil and military leadership.
Pro-army protests were held in Karachi, where hundreds of people carried banners supporting Gen Sharif. In response to criticism that he wasn’t doing much, Prime Minister Sharif visited the family of one of the soldiers killed on the LoC at Faisalabad. “It is becoming more of a contest as to who is doing more,” said journalist Talat Aslam.