Pulwama attack: PM warns Pak, says security forces given free hand to decide on timing, nature of response

New Delhi | In a strong warning to Pakistan over the Pulwama terror attack, Prime Minister Narendra Modi on Friday declared those responsible will pay a “very heavy price” and said the security forces have been given a free hand to decide on the timing, place and nature of their response to the carnage that left 40 CRPF men dead.

As the shock after the Thursday attack by a Jaish suicide bomber resonated across the country with families awaiting the bodies of their loved ones in coffins wrapped in tricolour, Modi said the “blood of the people is boiling”, adding the terror outfits and those aiding and abetting them have made a “big mistake”.

An IAF transport aircraft brought the coffins to the national capital from Srinagar Friday night and they will be later taken to the homes of the victims.

“A befitting reply will be given to the perpetrators of the heinous attack and their patrons,” asserted Modi, a day after the bomber rammed his vehicle laden with explosives into a CRPF bus in a convoy in Jammu and Kashmir’s Pulwama district. The Pakistan-based terror group Jaish-e-Mohammed(JeM) claimed responsibility for the attack on the convoy of 78 vehicles in one of the deadliest terror attacks in the border state.

Simultaneously, the government made it clear that India means business with a meeting of Cabinet Committee on Security(CCS) presided by Modi deciding to revoke the Most Favoured Nation(MFN) status to Pakistan. Withdrawal of the MFN status would significantly hit Pakistan’s exports to India, which stood at USD 488.5 million (around Rs 3,482.3 crore) in 2017-18, sources said.

After the meeting, Finance Minister Arun Jaitley told reporters that the Ministry of External Affairs(MEA) will take all possible diplomatic steps to isolate Pakistan.

Hours later, the government reached out to the international community, most of whom has univocally condemned the attack by the UN-proscribed JeM, in a major diplomatic offensive against Pakistan.

The MEA held a briefing for envoys of 25 countries, including from the P5 nations — US, China, Russia, the UK and France — during which it highlighted Pakistan’s role in using terrorism as an instrument of state policy.

Before the briefing, Foreign Secretary Vijay Gokhale summoned Pakistan High Commissioner to India Sohail Mahmood to his South Block office and issued a very strong demarche over the attack and asked Islamabad to take “immediate and verifiable action” against JeM.

According to sources, Indian High Commissioner to Pakistan Ajay Bisaria has also been called to Delhi for consultations in the wake of the horrific attack.

An all-party meeting has been convened by the Ministry Of Home Affairs in Delhi on Saturday to take stock of the situation.

Protests against Pakistan broke out in several parts of the country, including in Jammu city where curfew was imposed amid demands for retaliation against Pakistan.

The Central Reserve Police Force(CRPF) said it won’t “forget and forgive” but will “avenge” the death of its 40 personnel.

The country’s largest paramilitary force put out a tweet from its official handle saying, “We will not forget, we will not forgive.”

“We salute our martyrs of Pulwama attack and stand with the families of our martyr brothers. This heinous attack will be avenged.”

In a hard-hitting speech in the national capital, Modi said the “blood of the people is boiling” and forces behind the act of terrorism will definitely be punished.

“I want to tell the terror outfits and those aiding and abetting them that they have made a big mistake. They will have to pay a very heavy price for their actions. Let me assure the nation that those behind this attack, the perpetrators of this attack will be punished,” Modi said at a function to flag off the Vande Bharat Express, India’s fastest train from Delhi to Varanasi.

He said the security forces have been given “complete freedom”.

“Security forces have been given complete freedom, the blood of the people is boiling…Our neighbouring country, which has been isolated internationally is in a state of illusion, thinks such terror attacks can destabilise us, but their plans will not materialise,” Modi said.

Addressing a public meeting in Jhansi later in the day, the prime minister again did not name Pakistan but said the attack was an outcome of its desperation as it is in a bad shape and has been forced to go to different countries with a “begging bowl” to meet even its daily expenses.

Asserting that the sacrifices of CRPF soldiers will “not go in vain”, he said, “Security forces have been given permission to take decisions about the timing, place and nature of their response… This is an India of new convention and policy,”

As the government and politicians reacted to the attack with anger and the families of those killed came to grips with the enormity of the tragedy, Union Home Minister Rajnath Singh travelled to Srinagar and laid a wreath on the mortal remains of the troops.

The remains of the 40 CRPF personnel, many of whom were returning from leave to rejoin work in the Valley, were kept in coffins, draped in the tricolour, ready to make their final journey home.

Singh gave a shoulder to the coffin of one the jawans killed.

“The nation will not forget the supreme sacrifice of our brave CRPF jawans,” Singh said.

Echoing Singh’s views, the younger brother of V V Vasanth Kumar, who had left his home in Kerala’s Wayanad district on February 8 and was one of those killed, said his sacrifice would never be forgotten.

“My elder brother died for the country and we are proud of his sacrifice,” Sajeevan told PTI.

Vasanth Kumar’s mother Shanta and wife Sheena are inconsolable and his two young children have not yet been informed.

Their grief found resonance in 39 other homes across the country.

Describing the terror assault as an attack on India’s soul, Congress president Rahul Gandhi said his party as well as the entire opposition was fully supportive of the government and the security forces.

“I want to make it very clear that the aim of terrorism is to divide this country and we are not going to be divided for even one second, no matter how hard people try,” he told reporters.

The Himachal Pradesh Assembly unanimously passed a resolution seeking a befitting reply to Pakistan.

Punjab Chief Minister Amarinder Singh called for giving a befitting reply to Pakistan, asserting “the time for peace talks is over and they should be taught a lesson.”

As questions cropped up whether there was any intelligence failure, experts of anti-terror commando force the National Security Guard (NSG) and investigators from the National Investigation Agency (NIA) joined the probe into the attack.

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