NEW DELHI/RAWALPINDI, Pakistan (Reuters) - India will use “all instruments at its command” to respond to Pakistan over its alleged role in a deadly bombing in Kashmir, a government minister said on Friday, hours after Islamabad warned it would respond with “full force” if attacked.
Tensions between the nuclear-armed neighbours have escalated since a suicide car bomb in the disputed region of Kashmir killed 40 Indian security personnel. Pakistan-based militant group Jaish-e-Mohammed claimed responsibility for the attack.
Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi, who faces a general election by May, has said he has given a free hand to security forces to avenge the killings in Kashmir.
“India will exercise all instruments at its command, whether it is diplomatic or otherwise,” Finance Minister Arun Jaitley said in New Delhi. “India has all options. You need not exhaust all options on day one. This is not a one-week battle. It’s to be undertaken in various forms.”
Referring to Islamabad’s alleged support for Islamist militant groups, he added, “I think Pakistan is riding a tiger on this issue, and a tiger never spares its own rider.”
Pakistan said on Friday it had seized Jaish’s headquarters in a southern district of Punjab province bordering India.
Jaish, a jihadist group that seeks the independence of all of Kashmir from India, has offices and infrastructure in Pakistan where its leader, Maulana Masood Azhar, is based.
Authorities had taken 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 Kashmir has alleged that 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 (a) full spectrum threat that would surprise you,” Pakistani army spokesman Major General Asif Ghafoor told reporters in the garrison city of Rawalpindi.
“Don’t mess with Pakistan.”
Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan urged India on Wednesday to share any actionable evidence about the bombing, offering full cooperation in investigating it.
He also offered talks with India on all issues, including terrorism, which India has always sought as a prerequisite to any dialogue between the south Asian arch-rivals.
India and Pakistan have fought two wars since independence in 1947 over divided Kashmir, all of whose territory is claimed by both countries.
“Kashmir is a regional issue,” Ghafoor said. “Let us talk about it. Let us resolve it.”
On Friday, the Board of Control for Cricket in India (BCCI) said it has written to the game’s governing body urging the cricket community to sever ties with any nation from which “terrorism emanates”.
The neighbours, who have not hosted a cricket series between them since 2013 due to political tensions, are set to clash in one of the most anticipated matches of the May 30-July 14 World Cup in England and Wales.
India accuses Pakistani Islamist militant groups of infiltrating its part of mountainous Kashmir to fuel an insurgency and help local separatist movements.
The United States and India allege that the Pakistani army nurtures the militants to use them as foreign policy tools to expand Islamabad’s sway in India and Afghanistan. The army denies this.
One such group is Lashkar-e-Taiba (LeT), which India blamed for a wave of 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 groups, Jamaat-ud-Dawa (JuD) and Falah-e-Insaniat Foundation (FIF). But Saeed remains free, able to roam around Pakistan, make public speeches and deliver sermons.
Reporting by Alasdair Pal and James Mackenzie; Writing by Devjyot Ghoshal and Asif Shahzad; Editing by Mark Heinrich