Prime Minister Imran Khan’s first statement after the Pulwama terror attack was essentially an echo of the Pakistan Army’s line on terrorism against India and indicated the current close alignment of the civilian government with the military in that country.
But it had two significant departures.
One, he said that Pakistan was willing to discuss terrorism with India. “India always has a precondition of discussing terrorism. I am telling you that we are ready to talk about terrorism. Terrorism is an issue of the entire region and we want it to end,” he said.
Two, he threatened to “retaliate” if India attacked Pakistan. “If you think you would launch any attack on Pakistan and we would not think of retaliating, Pakistan will retaliate. Pakistan would not have any other choice but to give an answer,” he said. You can read the full text of his speech here.
Through all the years of terrorism in India, elected leaders of Pakistan have generally avoided such language, with the issuing of threats being generally done by the generals. Post Pulwama, despite a certain clamour for “revenge” on the street in India, official statements, and those issued by the political class, have called for calm.
Imran spoke five days after the attack that killed 40 CRPF personnel, saying he had been busy with the visit of Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman to Pakistan and an investment conference, and he did not want that attention should be diverted.
He expressed no sympathy for the victims of the attack or their families, and repeated the points that have long been part of the boilerplate Pakistani reaction to every criticism — from India or the United States — of its role in the promotion of international terrorism: that it is itself the world’s biggest victim of terror and has nothing to gain from supporting terrorists; that those who accuse it do so without evidence; and that making Pakistan the scapegoat is India’s default way to duck any debate on Kashmir.
“Pakistan has suffered the most due to terrorism — 70,000 Pakistanis have died due to terrorism, we have suffered a loss of more than 100 million dollars,” he said.
Imran did not mention Masood Azhar and the Jaish-e-Muhammad, even though the terrorist organisation has itself claimed credit for the attack. He offered help with the “investigation”, provided India is able to hand over “actionable intelligence”. And he asked India to “introspect” on its Kashmir policy.
All three have been standard ingredients of the Pakistani reaction on India and terrorism, including at bilateral and multilateral fora, and at the United Nations.