Pakistan Prime Minister Imran Khan has said the Pulwama terror attack that left 40 CRPF personnel dead was carried out by a Kashmiri youth and that Islamabad had got nothing to do with it.
Khan added even though terror group Jaish-e-Mohammed (JeM) claimed responsibility for the attack, said to have its base in Pakistan, the country should not be blamed.
"A Kashmiri boy was radicalised after the brutalities of the Indian security forces and he carried out the attack, but suddenly Pakistan came into the limelight," Imran Khan said, on Tuesday, after a bilateral meeting with United States President Donald Trump at the White House.
Khan said that even before the attack, Pakistan had decided to disarm "all militant groups" and all the political parties had backed it.
"But because this group claimed responsibility, which was in India as well -- Jaish-e-Mohammed was operating in India -- Pakistan suddenly came in the limelight," he said.
"Even before this had happened, we had already decided that we will disarm all militant groups in Pakistan. And it is Pakistan's interest, I repeat it is in our interest, because the country has had enough of militant groups," he added.
For the unversed, as many as 40 CRPF personnel were killed on February 14 when a CRPF convoy was rammed into by a Jaish terrorist -- leading the relations between India and Pakistan to plummet even further.
On February 26, India conducted an airstrike on Pakistan's Balakot to destroy terror haven of Jaish-e-Mohammed.
A day later, India and Pakistan engaged in an aerial dogfight with the respective air forces, leading to the capture of IAF officer Abhinandan Varthaman.
Abhinandan was later released by Pakistan as a "peace gesture".
Imran Khan, while speaking at the US Institute of Peace in Washington on Tuesday, also admitted that whenever there was progress in improving ties between India and Pakistan it was met by some incident that caused a reversal. But he did not say who was behind the incidents that setback peace.
He said, "Unfortunately because of one issue of Kashmir whenever we have tried, whenever our relationship has started to move in the right direction with India, some incident happens -- and that is all related to Kashmir -- we go back to square one."
JeM operates in India
Meanwhile, Imran Khan acknowledged that some terrorists in Pakistan had fought in Kashmir while asserting that he had the army's support for disarming them and for overtures to India.
Khan tried to make the case that the army and the security forces were not patronising the terrorist groups and backed the crackdown, while letting slip about their role in Kashmir.
He said that because some of the terrorists were trained and had experience of fighting in Kashmir the police can't handle them and the army's help is required.
Khan said: "It was said normally that the security forces patronised the groups. We would not be disarming if the security forces were not standing behind us. You cannot disarm because the police is incapable of disarming these groups. They are trained, these people have experience of fighting in Afghanistan, some in Kashmir. The police cannot go after them, so it is the army that is helping us disarm all militant groups in our country."
In a country where the military has ruled directly or from behind the scenes ensuring its hardline policies were followed and toppling elected governments there is skepticism about how far a civilian government can set the agenda.
Khan tried to dispel this notion where his elected civilian government was concerned, even in regard to India, and assert that he had the military's backing.
But he stopped short of claiming that the military establishment was under civilian control as it should be in a democracy.
"Whatever our policies from the day we arrived, on peace with India, they were behind (me), when I decided to release the Indian pilot who had been shot down in Pakistan, the army was right behind me," Khan said. "So today as we speak, you know, there is no difference between the policies of the Pakistan security forces or Pakistan's democratic government".
"Anyway, I don't want to say anything right now because it is a delicate issue, but there is a solution and the solution has to be with the will of the people of Kashmir", he added.
Imran Khan's US trip has been hitting headlines ever since it began.
Trump landed in a major soup when he said that Prime Minister Narendra Modi had asked him to mediate between India and Pakistan to resolve the Kashmir dispute.
This was followed by Imran Khan admitting to the fact that as many as 40 militant groups have been operating from the soil of Pakistan -- but all under the previous governments.
(with inputs from agencies)