By Robin Gomes
With the risk of war escalating between India and Pakistan following an Indian airstrike inside Pakistan on Tuesday, a Pakistani bishop has appealed for peace talks.
The Indian government claimed it carried out air raids against an Islamist militant training camp of Jaish-e-Mohammed, killing "a very large number" of fighters, raising the risk of a war between the nuclear-armed neighbours.
Pakistan denied there had been any casualties but condemned the Indian action and vowed it would respond.
The airstrike near the town of Balakot, some 50 kilometres from the Indo-Pakistani border was the deepest cross-border raid launched by India since the last of its three wars with Pakistan in 1971.
Tensions between the south-Asian neighbours have escalated dramatically since a suicide car bomb attack on Feb. 14 that killed at least 40 Indian paramilitary police in Kashmir.
The Pakistan-based Islamist Jaish group claimed responsibility for the attack.
"We condemn the terrorist attacks in Kashmir, but also any armed reaction: we ask God to change the hearts of men to stop any
that may lead to war,” said Pakistani Bishop Samson Shukardin of Hyderabad. “Let us pray for the victims and pray for peace between India and Pakistan," he told the Vatican’s Fides news agency.
Harbouring terrorist groups
India accuses Pakistan of allowing militant groups to operate on its territory and says Pakistani security agencies played a role in the attack on the Indian paramilitary police.
In December 2001, Jaish fighters, along with members of another Pakistan-based militant group, Lashkar-e-Taiba, launched an attack on India’s parliament, which almost led to a fourth war.
Kashmir is a Muslim-majority region at the heart of decades of hostility between India and Pakistan. The neighbours both rule parts of the region while claiming the entire territory as theirs.
Pakistan denies it provides safe haven to militants.
India said it ordered Tuesday’s air strike as it had intelligence that Jaish was planning more attacks.
"In the face of imminent danger, a preemptive strike became absolutely necessary," Indian Foreign Secretary Vijay Gokhale told reporters.
"The existence of such training facilities, capable of training hundreds of jihadis could not have functioned without the knowledge of the Pakistani authorities," Gokhale said.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi who is facing a tight election this year, vowed he “won’t let the country down."
Pakistan’s Prime Minister Imran Khan has denounced the Indian claim of Pakistani casualties but warned that "India has committed uncalled for aggression to which Pakistan shall respond at the time and place of its choosing."
“Instead of threatening each other, the leaders of both countries must work and give priority to maintaining peace," Bishop Shukardin said. "We urge the political leaders of both states to work to resolve the current crisis through talks at the negotiating table, instead of accusing each other," he added.