By Arul Louis
New York, Feb 27 (IANS) In a sign that the US backs India’s tough action in bombing a Jaish-e-Mohammad (JeM) base in Pakistan, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo has described it as “counter-terrorism actions” and emphasised the “close security partnership” between the two countries.
In a statement issued on Tuesday night, Pompeo said: “Following Indian counter-terrorism actions on February 26, I spoke with Indian Minister of External Affairs Sushma Swaraj to emphasise our close security partnership and shared goal of maintaining peace and security in the region.”
However, Pompeo also said that he told the Foreign Ministers to “avoid further military activity”.
Pompeo calling Tuesday’s attack by the Indian Air Force (IAF) in Balakot “counter-terrorism actions” is a diplomatic blowback from terrorism for Pakistan that openly harbours terrorist organisations.
On February 22, President Donald Trump told reporters in Washington that he “understood” why New Delhi was seeking a strong response to the suicide bombing of a Central Reserve Police Force convoy in Pulwama, Jammu and Kashmir, on February 14.
New Delhi is “looking for something strong” and because India has lost almost 50 people in the Pulwama attack, “I can understand that also”, he said.
Pompeo, who is visiting Hanoi for the US-North Korea summit, said that he spoke to Pakistan’s Foreign Minister Shah Mahmood Qureshi about “the urgency of Pakistan taking meaningful action against terrorist groups operating on its soil”.
He added that he also underscored the “priority of de-escalating current tensions by avoiding military action”.
“I expressed to both Ministers that we encourage India and Pakistan to exercise restraint, and avoid escalation at any cost. I also encouraged both Ministers to prioritise direct communication and avoid further military activity,” Pompeo said.
In the Pakistani version of the call, Qureshi had told Pompeo “that Indian aggression was worthy of condemnation and hoped that the United States would play its role in the situation”, according to Dawn newspaper.
But instead he got a warning against terrorist groups like JeM operating on its soil and, later, a statement calling India’s raid on JeM base “counter-terrorism actions”.
According to Indian officials, in her conversation with Pompeo, Sushma Swaraj told him that the air raid was targeted solely at the JeM base and explained the background and the rationale for the attack.
IAF Mirage 2000 fighter jets backed by an Emb 145 struck the JeM base Balakot in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, 195 km from Islamabad and over 40 km from Muzaffarabad, capital of Pakistani-administered Kashmir, early Tuesday morning.
(Arul Louis can be reached at [email protected] and followed on Twitter @arulouis)