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New Delhi: Prime Minister Narendra Modi used some of his strongest words yet to attack Pakistan, describing it as the incubator of terrorism in South Asia—a country that he said was bent upon exporting violence in a region that sought economic prosperity. In his speech at the East Asia Summit in Vientiane, capital of Laos, which had the likes of US President Barack Obama among the audience, Modi warned of “competing geo-politics, traditional and non-traditional challenges" threatening peace in the region. “We need to target not only terrorists but also their entire supporting ecosystem. And our strongest action must be reserved for those state actors who employ terrorism as an instrument of state policy," Modi said on Thursday.

“In South Asia, India and most countries of the region are pursuing a peaceful path to economic prosperity," Modi said in his speech to the leaders of the 10 Association of Southeast Asian Nations (Asean) countries as well as those of Australia, China, India, Japan, New Zealand, South Korea, the US and Russia who make up the EAS—a regional leaders’ forum for strategic dialogue and cooperation on key challenges facing the East Asian region.

“But there is one country in India’s neighbourhood whose competitive advantage rests solely in producing and exporting terrorism," Modi said.

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India accuses Pakistan of promoting terrorism though militants infiltrated into Jammu and Kashmir. Pakistan on its part says it is supporting a freedom struggle in the state.

Ties between the two countries that had thawed in December, have now plunged with sharp verbal exchanges since early July over Pakistan’s support to terrorism and unrest in Jammu and Kashmir.

Pakistan’s description of Burhan Wani, who India says belonged to the Hizbul Mujahideen, as “a Kashmiri leader" and a “martyr" after he was killed by Indian security forces in Kashmir on 8 July, riled the Indian government.

India is angry about several recent Pakistani forays on Kashmir—Islamabad has decided to commemorate 20 July as a Black Day to mark India’s alleged human rights violations in Kashmir; appointed 22 envoys to go around the world talking about these alleged violations; written to UN secretary-general Ban Ki-Moon drawing his attention to the unrest in Jammu and Kashmir; and briefed the ambassadors of countries with diplomatic missions in Pakistan.

The atmosphere between the two countries is a far cry from the situation in December when they announced a composite bilateral dialogue to discuss their disputes during a visit to Pakistan by foreign minister Sushma Swaraj. This was followed by a surprise visit by Modi to Pakistan on 25 December, the first by an Indian Prime Minister in more than a decade.

In other remarks at the East Asia Summit, Modi said India was committed to supporting the realization of RCEP or the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership, a proposed free-trade agreement among the Asean and its free trade partners—Australia, China, India, Japan, South Korea and New Zealand. Modi also sought a role for India in the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation saying India could help deepen ongoing economic integration in Asia-Pacific.

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On the South China Sea dispute between China and some of its Asean neighbours, Modi said “the sea lanes of communication passing through the South China Sea are the main arteries of global merchandise trade."

“India supports the freedom of navigation, overflight and unimpeded commerce based on the principles of international law. We also believe that the threat or the use of force to resolve disputes would complicate matters affecting peace and stability," in the region.

Earlier, in remarks to an India-Asean Summit, Modi expressed concern at the rising “export of terror, growing radicalisation and spread of extreme violence", describing them as common security threats.

“The threat is local, regional, and transitional at the same time. Our partnership with Asean seeks to craft a response through coordination, cooperation at multiple levels," he said.

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