Indian PM Modi warns Pakistan of strong response for Kashmir attack

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India's Prime Minister Narendra Modi pays tribute at Palam airport in New Delhi on February 15, 2019 as he stands next to the coffins containing the remains of Indian paramilitary troopers who were killed after a suicide bomber rammed a car into a bus carrying them in south Kashmir the day before. (India's Press Information Bureau/Handout via REUTERS)
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This handout photo shows Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi speaking during the inauguration and foundation stone laying ceremony of various development projects in Jhansi, in the Indian state of Uttar Pradesh on Feb. 15, 2019. (India’s Press Information Bureau via AFP)
Updated 15 February 2019

Indian PM Modi warns Pakistan of strong response for Kashmir attack

  • India withdraws Most Favorite Nation (MFN) status accorded to Pakistan
  • Islamabad denies link with the attack

NEW DELHI/SRINAGAR: India’s Prime Minister Narendra Modi on Friday promised a strong response to a car bombing in Kashmir that killed 44 paramilitary that his government blamed on Pakistan, ratcheting up tensions with the nuclear-rival.
The attack on a military convoy in Jammu and Kashmir where India has been battling an insurgency was the worst in decades and comes just months before Modi’s ruling Hindu nationalists face a tight general election.
“We will give a befitting reply, our neighbor will not be allowed to de-stabilize us,” Modi said in a speech soon after he called his security advisers to consider a response to the attack that has provoked an outpouring of anger on social media and demands for retribution.
The Pakistan-based Islamist militant group Jaish-e-Mohammad (JeM) claimed responsibility soon after a suicide bomber rammed his car laden with explosives into a bus carrying Central Reserve Police Force personnel on Thursday.
The Indian government said it had incontrovertible evidence of Pakistan’s involvement in the attack. Islamabad rejected the suggestion it was linked to the attack.
India will take all possible diplomatic steps to ensure the “complete isolation” of Pakistan, cabinet minister Arun Jaitley told reporters soon after the cabinet committee met at Modi’s residence.
As a first step, this would include India removing most favored nation (MFN) trade privileges given to Pakistan, Jaitley said.
“The ministry of external affairs will initiate all possible steps, and I am here referring to all possible diplomatic steps which have to be taken to ensure the complete isolation from the international community of Pakistan,” he said.
But bilateral trade between India and Pakistan is barely $2 billion per year and Modi facing a tough election is likely to come under pressure for a more muscular response.
He took office in 2014 promising to tackle Muslim Pakistan, with which India has twice gone to war since independence from Britain in 1947
Kashmir is a Muslim-majority region at the heart of decades of hostility between India and Pakistan. The neighbors both rule parts of the region while claiming the entire territory as theirs.
The last major attack in Kashmir was in 2016 when militants raided an Indian army camp in Uri, killing 20 soldiers. Modi responded with a surgical strike on suspected militant camps across the border in Pakistan Kashmir weeks later.
Pakistan’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs called the latest Kashmir attack a matter of “grave concern.”
But in a brief statement early on Friday it added: “We strongly reject any insinuation by elements in the Indian government and media circles that seek to link the attack to the State of Pakistan without investigations.”
The White House urged Pakistan in a statement “to end immediately the support and safe haven provided to all terrorist groups operating on its soil.” It said the attack strengthens US resolve to step up counter-terrorism cooperation with India.


Thumbs-up: Pakistani woman defies risks to hitchhike across the country

Updated 14 September 2020

Thumbs-up: Pakistani woman defies risks to hitchhike across the country

  • Leaving corporate security behind, Maria Soomro has traveled solo around the country since the pandemic began
  • She documents her travels and uses YouTube and Instagram to provide tips on how to solo travel as a woman

RAWALPINDI: A few months ago, while doing a stable job in the banking sector, Maria Soomro decided to act on her gut instinct and leave behind the monotony and routine of her daily life to follow her dream of hitchhiking around Pakistan. 

30-year-old Soomro hails from Karachi and has been working in the banking sector since completing her university education. The corporate job gave her 40 days of annual leave which she utilized for travel, though she felt that something was missing. 

“I wasn’t fully able to immerse myself in enjoyment or the experience,” she told Arab News over the phone while traveling through Gilgit-Baltistan. “When I travel, I go to remote villages, off-the-beaten-path type places and get to know the locals, actually spend some time understanding where I am and who I am surrounded by. Five or 15 days don’t allow for that.” 

The idea of spending time doing what she loved as opposed to sitting at a desk kicked Soomro into high-gear. “I opted to turn the documenting of my travels, which I had been doing since 2015 on Instagram (@MariaSoomro_) and eponymous YouTube channel, into my full-time job.” 

Maria Soomro smiles for the camera in a ride she hitched near Burzil Pass, part of the historic caravan route between Srinagar and Gilgit on her Instagram page on September 11, 2020. (Picture courtesy of Maria Soomro) 

In March of this year, Soomro headed out on her hitchhiking journey. Being a solo female traveler in Pakistan is a steadily growing trend, though a woman who hitchhikes is almost unheard of.

 “Budget traveling is my focus. The largest chunk of your budget ends up being spent on accommodation and transportation, and both of these things can be covered when you’re hitchhiking,” said Soomro. 

But her travel ethos is another reason hitchhiking was so attractive. To her, there is no better way than this to know the places one is traveling through. 

“This is a shortcut to get to know local communities, be it Pakistan or another country. When you ask for a lift, you get a special introduction to their home, their points of view, and you learn from them,” she said, adding that one can build contacts as a bonus who can be assets to solo travelers. 

Soomro estimates that her hitchhiking adventure has allowed her to meet over 300 people, all of whom, she maintains, contact through social media. “The more people you meet the more stories you hear and the more people you can share your own story with,” said she. 

Maria Soomro shares tips and tricks on solo travel including how to keep one's tent from blowing away in a shot she shares from Golden Beach, Balochistan, on her Instagram page on June 14, 2020. (Picture courtesy of Maria Soomro) 

Instead of merely asking for a lift, Soomro has taken each ride as an opportunity to educate on what hitchhiking is, why she is doing it, and why she is traveling Pakistan. 

“It’s not very common here and I want to change that. The general consensus is that Pakistan is not safe, in particular for women, to travel alone.” 

When asked about how safe she has felt while traveling, Soomro said she follows “her gut instinct, assessing each ride” but also stressed the importance of “being prepared,” such as carrying personal protection equipment like pepper spray and knife. 

“My advice to Pakistanis who want to follow into my footsteps would be to take time to understand this kind of travel first and do not go straight for hitching,” she said. “Travel in groups and learn the areas you want to visit, know how roads work and, like any other passion, take time to educate yourself.” 

Soomro is doing her part in educating travel hopefuls on her YouTube channel and Instagram page with tips on how to hitchhike, where to go, and how to pitch a tent to withstand winds and what type of rides to expect around the country at present. 

“There are very few people who follow their passion in the world, and I am one of those crazy people since I thought I could do it,” said Soomro. “I am a free bird and travel is a part of me. I can’t imagine my life without this.”