India withdraws MFN status to Pak
NEW DELHI, Feb 15: Pakistan cannot weaken India by orchestrating attacks and those responsible will pay a “very heavy price”, Prime Minister Narendra Modi warned today as echoes from the Pulwama terror strike rang across the country with families awaiting the bodies of their loved ones in coffins wrapped in the tricolour.
Security forces will be given a free hand to deal with terrorists, the Prime Minister said, a day after 44 CRPF soldiers were martyred when a suicide bomber rammed a vehicle laden with explosives into their bus in Jammu and Kashmir’s Pulwama district.
The Pakistan-based terror group Jaish-e-Mohammed has claimed responsibility for the attack on the convoy of 78 vehicles that was on its way from Jammu to Srinagar.
“I want to tell the terror outfits and those aiding and abetting them that they have made a big mistake. They will have to pay a very heavy price for their actions. Let me assure the nation that those behind this attack, the perpetrators of this attack will be punished, Modi said at a function to flag off the Vande Bharat Express, India’s fastest train from Delhi to Varanasi.
All efforts would be made to isolate Pakistan, Finance Minister Arun Jaitley said.
Foreign Secretary Vijay Gokhale summoned Pakistan High Commissioner to India Sohail Mahmood and lodged India’s strong protest, official sources said.
Making it clear that India means business, the Cabinet Committee on Security, which met today morning, decided to withdraw Most Favoured Nation status to Pakistan.
It would enable India to increase customs duty on goods coming from the neighbouring country.
India granted MFN status to Pakistan way back in 1996, but it has not yet reciprocated.
In his hard-hitting speech here, Modi said the “blood of the people is boiling” and forces behind the act of terrorism will definitely be punished.
“Security forces have been given complete freedom, the blood of the people is boiling…Our neighbouring country, which has been isolated internationally, thinks such terror attacks can destabilise us, but their plans will not materialise,” Modi said.
Addressing a public meeting in Jhansi later in the day, the Prime Minister again did not name Pakistan but said the attack was an outcome of its desperation as it is in a bad shape and has been forced to go to different countries with a “begging bowl” to meet even its daily expenses.
Asserting that the sacrifices of CRPF soldiers will “not go in vain”, he said, “Security forces have been given permission to take decisions about the timing, place and nature of their response… This is an India of new convention and policy.”
Briefing reporters after the CCS meeting, which is unusual, Jaitley said all efforts will be made to ensure that perpetrators of the attack are brought to book.
Jaitley said the Ministry of External Affairs will launch an all out effort to isolate Pakistan and all diplomatic efforts will be launched in this regard.
Withdrawal of the MFN status would significantly hit Pakistan’s exports to India, which stood at USD 488.5 million (around Rs 3,482.3 crore) in 2017-18.
In a media briefing after the meeting of the Cabinet Committee on Security (CCS), Jaitley said the MFN status to Pakistan stands revoked.
“As the CCS has decided to withdraw the most-favoured nation status to Pakistan, the government can take punitive actions under the Customs Act and the Foreign Trade (Development and Regulation) Act,” sources said.
Under these laws, the Government can restrict trade of certain goods, significantly increase customs duties and impose port-related restrictions on Pakistani goods, they said.
The main items which Pakistan exports to India include fresh fruits, cement, petroleum products, bulk minerals and ores and finished leather.
India granted the MFN status to Pakistan way back in 1996, but the neighbouring country had not reciprocated.
Meanwhile, Modi paid his last respects to the 40 CRPF personnel killed in the Pulwama terror attack at the Palam technical area here today evening, officials said.
The bodies of the slain troopers reached Delhi’s Palam air force area in a special Indian Air Force (IAF) plane in the evening. The bodies were received by Home Minister Rajnath Singh.
Modi placed a wreath on a platform placed before the coffins carrying the mortal remains of the troopers.
The coffins wrapped in tricolour were neatly arranged in the hanger, where senior officials of the Central Reserve Police Force (CRPF) paid their last respects by placing wreaths one by one in a solemn ceremony, officials said.
National Security Advisor Ajit Doval, Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal, the chiefs of the three services — Army, Air Force and Navy — Senior Cabinet Ministers, including Defence Minister Nirmala Sitharaman, and Congress president Rahul Gandhi also paid their homage to the martyred CRPF personnel, they added. (PTI)