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India has the right to defend itself, says US after Pulwama

The United States continued to press Pakistan on terrorism in the aftermath of the Pulwama attack and signalled its recognition of India’s right to self-defense.

world Updated: Feb 16, 2019 13:21 IST
Yashwant Raj
Yashwant Raj
Hindustan Times, Washington
Pulwama terror attack,Pulwama attack,India news
Prime Minister Narendra Modi pays tribute to the martyred CRPF jawans, who lost their lives in Thursday's Pulwama terror attack, after their mortal remains were brought at AFS Palam in New Delhi, Friday, Feb 15, 2019. (PTI photo)

The United States continued to press Pakistan on terrorism in the aftermath of the Pulwama attack and signalled Friday its recognition of India’s right to self-defense as it weighs options amidst mounting pressure for a response, ranging from a military strike to abrogation of a river water-sharing treaty.

“I told Ajit Doval today that we support India’s right to self-defense,” US national security adviser John Bolton said to reporters at a briefing on Venezuela, according to PTI news agency. A transcript of the media availability was not immediately available.

“I have spoken to him twice, including this morning ... and expressed US’s condolences over the terrorist attack,” he said reportedly.

Bolton’s remarks came amidst mounting calls in India for retaliatory action, with options ranging from military strikes to abrogating the Indus Waters Treaty under which India has undertaken to use only a small portion of the water from the river flowing through its territories into Pakistan.

Bolton went on to point to Pakistan as responsible for the attack saying. ”We have been very clear on that score... And, we are continuing to be in discussions we are going to have with the Pakistanis.”

The first retaliatory strike by India to a terrorist strike by a Pakistan-based outfit — called a surgical strike — took place in 2016, in response to an attack on an Indian military base in Uri, Kashmir, the same day as when Doval, the Indian national security adviser, spoke to his then US counterpart Susan Rice, September 29. There has been some speculation that the strike was underway at the time Doval was speaking to Rice.

The United States has blamed Pakistan unequivocally and squarely for the Pulwama attack, for providing safe haven to terrorist groups such as Jaish-e-Mohammad, which has claimed responsibility for the killing of 43 CRPF (Central Reserve Police force) personnel.

Both the White House and the State Department named Pakistan as responsible in their statements condemning the attack on Thursday.

And Secretary of State Mike Pompeo leant into it in a post on Twitter on Friday, the day after. “The US condemns yesterday’s horrific terror attack on Indian security forces,” he wrote, adding, “Pakistan must not provide safe haven for terrorists to threaten international security.”

Pompeo has been one of the most aggressive of Trump administration officials on Pakistan, He brought up terrorism in a phone call to Imran Khan in the first senior level interaction with the newly elected leader and put it center-stage in his visit to Islamabad on his way to New Delhi for the inaugural 2+2 ministerial.

Bolton’s phone call with Doval, however, escalates US support for India at this time to a different level, said an Indian official close to the deliberations, similar to the one adopted by the US in September 2016, when India first carried out a surgical strike in response to a terrorist attack by a Pakistan-based group.

“We do empathize with India’s perception that they do need to respond militarily,” Peter Lavoy, a senior White House official overseeing relations with India for the Obama White House, had said a few weeks after after the strikes, in retaliation for a terrorist attack on an Indian military base in Uri, Kashmir.

First Published: Feb 16, 2019 13:21 IST