Pakistan has stopped an Indian submarine from entering its waters, the navy said Tuesday, as tensions continue to run high between the nuclear-armed foes.
The development came days after a rare aerial dogfight between India and Pakistan over the disputed territory of Kashmir ignited fears of an all-out conflict, with world powers rushing to urge restraint.
‘The Pakistan navy stopped an Indian submarine from entering our territorial waters,’ a naval spokesman said.
He added ‘the Indian submarine was not targeted, in line with the government’s policy of maintaining peace’.
It was the first such incident since 2016, when Pakistan said it had ‘pushed’ an Indian submarine away from its waters.
The navy later said the submarine was detected on Monday within Pakistan’s maritime zone, or 200 nautical mile exclusive economic zone, but did not give further details on the location.
It also released what it said was video of the submarine, with the grainy black and white footage showing only what appeared to be a periscope above water.
The timestamp at the beginning of the video clip read 8:35 pm on Monday.
India said its navy remained ‘deployed as necessary’.
‘Over the past several days we have witnessed Pakistan indulging in false propoganda,’ an Indian Navy spokesman tweeted Tuesday.
An Indian government source also dismissed the video, telling AFP, ‘Why would a submarine in Pakistani waters have its periscope up?’
Tensions between the arch-rivals have escalated significantly over recent days, after a suicide bombing in Indian-administered Kashmir killed 40 Indian paramilitaries.
Meanwhile, Pakistan has detained dozens of alleged extremists, its interior minister said Tuesday.
Among those detained in Islamabad’s latest crackdown on banned groups was Abdul Rauf - who a security source said is a younger brother of Masood Azhar - the leader of Pakistan-based extremist group Jaish-e-Mohammad that claimed responsibility for the February 14 attack.
Rauf had been named in a dossier of evidence in that attack given to Pakistan by India, the interior ministry said.
‘We have launched a crackdown against proscribed organisations and have taken 44 individuals into custody, including Mufti Abdul Rauf and Hammad Azhar,’ state minister for the interior Shehryar Afridi told reporters in Islamabad.
He did not give any further names, clarify what groups those detained allegedly belonged to, or say if they would face charges.
Rauf is a little-known younger brother of Masood Azhar, the security source said. He added that ‘Hammad Azhar’ was an alias, but did not say who for.
Indian officials were sceptical of the detentions Tuesday. ‘We have seen Pakistan make arrests before, and then the people are released,’ an Indian government source said.
India, along with the US, has pressured Pakistan to take action against extremists.
‘If they still do not mend their ways, we have told them what will happen,’ prime minister Narendra Modi told an election rally in central India Tuesday.
Afridi said Pakistan was ‘not taking this action under pressure from anyone’. Islamabad has vehemently denied involvement in militant attacks, and said there are no safe havens left for terror groups on its territory.
JeM leader Masood Azhar remains in Pakistan, foreign minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi told CNN last week, adding that he was ‘very unwell’ and could not leave his house.
Meanwhile, Indian security forces killed two extremists in an encounter at Tral in Kashmir’s Pulwama Tuesday morning, an army spokesperson said, reports Hindustan Times.
The encounter had begun Monday evening when security forces launched a search operation in the area in the evening following a tip off about the extremists. Tral is 46 km southeast of Srinagar.
A police spokesperson said the two extremists were identified as Adfar Fayaz Parray, son of Fayaz Ahmad Parray and Irfan Ahmad Rather, both residents of Tral.
‘The killed terrorists were affiliated with proscribed terror outfit Hizbul Mujahideen. They were involved in conspiring and executing several terrorist attacks and were wanted by the law for their complicity in a series of terror crimes including attack on security establishments and civilian atrocities,’ the police said in a statement.
Meanwhile, Pakistan’s foreign ministry announced a new order on Monday to update existing laws that deal with those on UN sanctions lists. The government said it had developed a ‘full-fledged strategy’ to deal with extremists and it was looking to close ‘loopholes’ that allowed banned groups to operate, reports Reuters.
Two senior security officials said the government has drawn up plans to take over all madrassahs - Islamic schools - linked to groups banned by the United Nations and to seize their assets and infrastructure.
At a later stage the government may consider recruiting some of the extremists into paramilitary forces or seek other ways to find them jobs and incorporate them into normal society, the officials said.
Closing madrassah is a thorny issue in Pakistan, a deeply conservative Muslim nation where religious schools are often blamed for radicalization of youngsters but are the only education available to millions of poor children.
A Pakistani minister said that several madrassahs had been closed in recent days, including one run by Saeed-linked Islamic charity Jamaat-ud-Dawa and another seminary operated by JeM in Bahawalpur, where JeM has its headquarters.
Several other madrasshas would be closed but there will not be widespread closures, said the minister, who asked not to be identified, adding that only a few such schools have links with terrorism.
Meanwhile, an Indian government surveillance agency had detected 300 active mobile phones at a suspected extremist camp in Pakistan that India says its fighter jets bombed last week, the interior minister said on Tuesday, seeking to quell rising doubts about the success of the operation.
‘Some people are asking how many were killed,’ Rajnath Singh said at an election rally. ‘You are seeking answers from us! India’s respected and authentic NTRO surveillance system has said that before Indian pilots dropped the bombs, 300 mobile phones were active there. There’s no need to tell you how many were killed.’
Singh was referring to the National Technical Research Organisation that is under direct control of the prime minister’s office.
Indian opposition leaders are increasingly raising doubts about the government’s official claims that a ‘very large number’ of members of an Islamist extremist group were killed in the strike by Indian warplanes early on February 26. The government has rejected the demand for proof.
Pakistan has said the Indian bombs hit a largely empty hillside near the northeastern town of Balakot without hurting anyone.
A top Indian government official, speaking on condition of anonymity, said last week that at least 300 suspected militants were killed in the air strike, while the president of the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party, Amit Shah, put the figure at more than 250.
Pakistan’s government sacked a provincial minister on Tuesday for making offensive comments about Hindus, amid easing tensions with India after the two nuclear-armed neighbours came to the brink of war last month, reports Reuters.
Punjab provincial information minister Fayyaz Chohan referred on Monday to Hindus, who number more than four million in Muslim-majority Pakistan, as ‘cow urine drinkers’ in a highly charged speech against India.
The statement was immediately condemned on social media and by senior members of prime minister Imran Khan’s ruling party Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf as hurtful to the country’s Hindu minority.
Chohan later said his comments were aimed at India and not Pakistani Hindus.
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