By Syed Raza Hassan
KARACHI (Reuters) – Pakistan has “reliable intelligence” that India will attack again this month, its foreign minister said, drawing condemnation from New Delhi which described the claim as irresponsible.
Shah Mahmood Qureshi’s comments came after tensions over a February standoff between the arch enemies had appeared to ease.
He said on Sunday that an attack could take place between April 16 and 20, adding that Pakistan had told the five permanent members of the U.N. Security Council of its concerns.
“India rejects the irresponsible and preposterous statement by the foreign minister of Pakistan with a clear objective of whipping up war hysteria in the region,” a spokesman for India’s foreign office said in a statement.
“This public gimmick appears to be a call to Pakistan-based terrorists to undertake a terror attack in India.”
The foreign office said India reserved the right to respond firmly and decisively to any cross border militant attack, accusing Pakistan of being complicit in such attacks on India.
A suicide car bombing by Pakistan-based militants in Indian-controlled Kashmir killed at least 40 Indian paramilitary police on Feb. 14. The risk of conflict rose dramatically on Feb. 27, when India launched an air strike on what it said was a militant training base inside Pakistan.
The following day Pakistan shot down an Indian fighter jet and captured its pilot who was later released.
Earlier on Sunday, Pakistan summoned the Indian deputy high commissioner to protest against any “misadventure”, Pakistani Foreign Office spokesman Mohammad Faisal said in a tweet.
“We have reliable intelligence that India is planning a new attack on Pakistan. As per our information this could take place between April 16 and 20,” Qureshi told reporters in his hometown of Multan.
He did not elaborate on what evidence Pakistan had or how he could be so specific with the timing, but he said Prime Minister Imran Khan had agreed to share the information with the country.
Khan blamed India’s ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) for “whipping up war hysteria” over claims that India shot down a Pakistani plane during the February standoff.
The Indian air force had displayed pieces of a missile that it said was fired by a Pakistani F-16 before it was downed.
Satellite images showing little sign of damage have also case doubt on the success of Indian air strikes on a camp of the Jaish-e-Mohammed militant group in northwestern Pakistan.
The standoff led Pakistan to close its airspace but most commercial air traffic has since resumed and major airports have opened.
As strains between the two neighbors apparently eased, Pakistan said on Friday it would release 360 Indian prisoners this month. The first hundred were released on Sunday.
Because relations are so rocky, prisoners who have completed jail terms, many of them fishermen convicted of straying into each other’s territory, often languish in prison for months, if not years, afterwards.
“These are 100 Indian fishermen released from jail as a goodwill gesture by Pakistan,” Saad Edhi, an official with Pakistan’s largest charity, the Edhi Foundation, told Reuters at Karachi’s Cantonment Railway Station on Sunday.
“They are going to Lahore from where they will be released into India across the Wagha border crossing.”
(Writing by Nick Macfie; Additional reporting by Mayank Bhardwaj in New Delhi; Editing by Kim Coghill and Catherine Evans)