India Kashmir Protests
India Kashmir Protests

ISLAMABAD - India has reacted sharply to Pakistan's criticism of its suppression of protests in Kashmir, calling the archrival a "terrorist state."

Pakistani Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif, while speaking Wednesday to the annual U.N. General Assembly, demanded an independent probe into what he called "the extra-judicial killings" and "atrocities" in Kashmir to punish those responsible.

Pakistani Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif speaks durin
FILE - Pakistani Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif speaks during the 71st session of the United Nations General Assembly at U.N. headquarters in New York, Sept. 21, 2016.

Indian U.N. diplomat Eenam Gambhir exercised her country's right of reply by dismissing Sharif's speech as "hypocritical sermons."

"What India sees in Pakistan is a terrorist state, which channelizes billions of dollars, much of it diverted from international aid, to training, financing and supporting terrorist groups as militant proxies against it neighbors," she said.

Gambhir blamed Pakistan for plotting Sunday's rebel assault on an Indian military base in Kashmir that killed 18 soldiers.

She also slammed Sharif for supporting "a self-acknowledged commander of a known terrorist organization Hizbul Mujahideen."

The Indian envoy was referring to the July 8 killing of a 22-year-old separatist militant, Burhan Wani, by Indian forces.

Activists of Pakistan civil society rally holding
FILE - Activists of Pakistan civil society rally holding a picture of slain Kashmiri resistance leader Burhan Wani during an anti-Indian protest in Lahore, Pakistan, Aug. 2, 2016.

Wani's killing has incited violent protests across Indian Kashmir, where curfews and strikes have forced the closing of markets, offices and educational institutions.

Indian security forces have been criticized for shooting tiny pellets to disperse protesters. Thousands of people have been wounded, with many sustaining eye injuries, while more than 70 people — including security forces — have died.

India has blamed Pakistan, which controls one-third of Kashmir, for fueling the unrest; charges Islamabad denies.

The neighbors are currently locked in a war of words that has raised bilateral tensions over Kashmir, the cause of two of the three wars between India and Pakistan since they both gained independence from Britain in 1947.

Speaking on Wednesday, Sharif reiterated that without resolving the Kashmir dispute, peace between the two nuclear-armed South Asian nations cannot be achieved.

"But India has posed unacceptable preconditions to engage in a dialogue. Let us be clear: Talks are no favor to Pakistan. Talks are in the interest of both countries. They are essential to resolve our differences, especially the Jammu and Kashmir dispute, and to avert the danger of any escalation," Sharif said.

Speculation about war

The tensions have fueled media speculations on both sides about another war between India and Pakistan.

Over the past two days, Pakistani fighter planes have staged rare repeated landings on the main highway linking the capital, Islamabad, to Lahore to the east and Peshawar to the west. The previously unscheduled exercises strengthen fears the country is preparing for a possible Indian attack.

But Pakistani military and civilian authorities dismissed those fears.

"Let me tell you that these are routine exercises," Foreign Ministry spokesman Nafees Zakaria said Thursday. He added that Pakistan was aware of "inflammatory and irresponsible" statements and threats that India might undertake "surgical strikes" against suspected terrorist infrastructure on Pakistani soil.

"Pakistan is a peace loving country. ... Having said that, let me be clear that our armed forces and the entire nation of Pakistan remain ready to defend our country's sovereignty and territorial integrity at all costs," Zakaria said.