India hits back at Pak amid heated exchange

By, New Delhi
Dec 16, 2022 11:55 PM IST

The UN became the venue for a bitter face-off between India and Pakistan on Kashmir and terrorism, with the Indian side lashing out at Pakistani foreign minister Bilawal Bhutto Zardari’s “uncivilised remarks” aimed at the Indian premier and highlighting Islamabad’s “indisputable role” in harbouring terrorist organisations.

The UN became the venue for a bitter face-off between India and Pakistan on Kashmir and terrorism, with the Indian side lashing out at Pakistani foreign minister Bilawal Bhutto Zardari’s “uncivilised remarks” aimed at the Indian premier and highlighting Islamabad’s “indisputable role” in harbouring terrorist organisations.

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The external affairs ministry lashed out on Friday at Bhutto Zardari for his comments aimed at Prime Minister Narendra Modi, and said Pakistan should not cast aspersions on India given its track record on the treatment of minority communities and on counter-terrorism. Cities such as New York, Mumbai and London “bear the scars of Pakistan-sponsored, supported and instigated terrorism” originating from “Special Terrorist Zones” in Pakistan, the ministry said.

After chairing a special meeting of the UN Security Council focused on a “global counter-terrorism approach”, external affairs minister S Jaishankar told the media on Thursday that the world perceives Pakistan as the “epicentre of terrorism” as the country still shelters terror groups.

Alluding to Jaishankar’s comments on Thursday about Pakistan being the country that harboured terror mastermind Osama bin Laden until he was hunted down and killed in Abbottabad by the US in 2011, Bhutto Zardari had said: “I’d like to remind the honourable minister of external affairs of India that Osama bin Laden is dead but the butcher of Gujarat lives and he is the prime minister of India. He was banned from entering this country until he became prime minister.”

In a sharp response to Bhutto Zardari’s remarks, external affairs ministry spokesperson Arindam Bagchi said the comments marked “a new low, even for Pakistan”. Bhutto Zardari had “obviously forgotten” December 16, 1971, which marked the emergence of Bangladesh from erstwhile East Pakistan, and was a “direct result of the genocide unleashed by Pakistani rulers against ethnic Bengalis and Hindus”, he said.

“Unfortunately, Pakistan does not seem to have changed much in the treatment of its minorities. It certainly lacks credentials to cast aspersions at India,” Bagchi said.

Pointing to Pakistan’s “indisputable role in sponsoring, harbouring and actively financing terrorist and terrorist organisations” remaining under the scanner, Bagchi said Bhutto Zardari’s “uncivilised outburst seems to be a result of Pakistan’s increasing inability to use terrorists and their proxies”.

New York, Mumbai, Pulwama, Pathankot and London are among the cities that “bear the scars of Pakistan-sponsored, supported and instigated terrorism”, which emanated from “Special Terrorist Zones”, Bagchi said, adding: “‘Make in Pakistan’ terrorism has to stop.”

Information and broadcasting minister Anurag Thakur hit out at Bhutto Zardari’s remark, calling it “extremely nefarious and shameful”.

“This is the reflection of the pain of their defeat at the hands of India in 1971 on this very day,” Thakur said, referring to the surrender of the Pakistan Army to India after the 13-day war that led to the liberation of Bangladesh on December 16, 1971.

Jaishankar and Bhutto Zardari have taken pot shots at each other several times this week while attending special events at the UN. Jaishankar was in New York to chair two high-level events focused on reformed multilateralism and counter-terrorism during India’s presidency of the UN Security Council for December.

On emerging from the UN Security Council’s special meeting on Thursday, Jaishankar was asked at a media stakeout about Bhutto Zardari raising the Kashmir issue and his deputy Hina Rabbani Khar presenting a dossier on India’s alleged involvement in terrorism in Pakistan. Jaishankar responded by quoting former US secretary of state Hillary Clinton’s remarks during an October 2011 visit to Pakistan that “you can’t keep snakes in your backyard and expect them only to bite your neighbours”.

Jaishankar added, “Eventually they will bite the people who keep them in the backyard. But as you know, Pakistan is not great on taking good advice...In terms of what they are saying, the truth is the world today sees them as the epicentre of terrorism.”

He said the Covid-19 pandemic may have given a lot of people “brain fog” but the “world has not forgotten...who has their fingerprints over a lot of activities in the region and beyond”.

Asked by a Pakistani journalist about Pakistan’s accusations regarding Indian involvement in terrorism, Jaishankar’s response was even more stinging: “You’re asking the wrong minister when you say how long will we do this because it is the ministers of Pakistan who will tell you how long Pakistan intends to practice terrorism.

“At the end of the day, the world is not stupid, the world is not forgetful, and the world does increasingly call out countries and organisations and people who indulge in terrorism.”

Jaishankar said that instead of diverting attention away from terrorism, Pakistan should “clean up your act, please try to be a good neighbour, please try and contribute to what the rest of the world is trying to do today, which is economic growth, progress, development”.

Bhutto Zardari responded to Jaishankar’s remarks a short while later at a news conference, saying he disagreed with the description of Pakistan as the epicentre of terrorism and noting that he himself was a victim of terrorism as his mother, former premier Benazir Bhutto had been assassinated by terrorists in 2007.

He accused the Indian government of linking all Muslims to terrorism and said: “We’ve lost far more lives to terrorism than India has, why would we want our own people to suffer...India is playing in that space where it’s very easy to say Muslim and terrorist together and get the world to agree.”

On Friday, Bagchi accused Pakistan of glorifying Osama bin Laden as a “martyr” and sheltering terrorists such as Lashkar-e-Taiba (LeT) operatives Zakiur Rehman Lakhvi, Hafiz Saeed and Sajid Mir, Jaish-e-Mohammed (JeM) chief Masood Azhar and Dawood Ibrahim. “No other country can boast [of] having 126 UN-designated terrorists and 27 UN-designated terrorist entities!” he said.

“We wish that Pakistan FM would have listened more sincerely yesterday [Thursday] at the UN Security Council to the testimony of Ms Anjali Kulthe, a Mumbai nurse who saved the lives of 20 pregnant women from the bullets of the Pakistani terrorist Ajmal Kasab. Clearly, the foreign minister was more interested in whitewashing Pakistan’s role,” Bagchi said, referring to the 2008 Mumbai attacks.

“Pakistan FM’s frustration would be better directed towards the masterminds of terrorist enterprises in his own country, who have made terrorism a part of their State policy. Pakistan needs to change its own mindset or remain a pariah,” he added.

India-Pakistan ties are currently at their lowest point, and the two sides have not held any structured dialogue since the Mumbai attacks carried out by the LeT. A string of more recent terror attacks by the JeM on military facilities and personnel, such as the 2019 suicide bombing at Pulwama that killed 40 Indian troopers, further raised tensions between the two sides and triggered Indian strikes across the Line of Control (LoC) and the international border.

India’s scrapping of the special status of Jammu and Kashmir in August 2019 also sparked an angry response from Pakistan, which ended trade, downgraded diplomatic relations and decided not to post a high commissioner in New Delhi.

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