Indian paramilitary soldiers stand by the wreckage of a bus after an explosion in Pampore, Indian-controlled Kashmir, Feb 14, 2019. (UMER ASIF / AP)
NEW DELHI/SRINAGAR - India’s Prime Minister Narendra Modi warned Pakistan on Friday to expect a strong response to a suicide attack that killed 44 paramilitary policemen in Kashmir, ratcheting up tension between the nuclear-armed neighbors.
We will give a befitting reply, our neighbor will not be allowed to de-stabilize us
Narendra Modi, India PM
The car bomb attack on a security convoy on Thursday was the worst in decades of insurgency in the disputed region. India said it had “incontrovertible evidence” of Pakistani involvement - though that was quickly denied by Islamabad.
“We will give a befitting reply, our neighbor will not be allowed to de-stabilize us,” Modi said in a speech, after meeting security advisers to discuss options.
The attack comes months before national elections in India.
The Pakistan-based Islamist militant group Jaish-e-Mohammad (JeM) claimed responsibility soon after a suicide bomber rammed a explosives-laden car into a bus carrying police personnel.
India has for years accused Muslim Pakistan of backing separatist militants in divided Kashmir, which the neighbors both claim in full but rule in part.
Pakistan denies that, saying it only offers political support to the Himalayan region’s suppressed Muslim people.
The White House urged Pakistan “to end immediately the support and safe haven provided to all terrorist groups operating on its soil”.
This handout photograph released by India's Press Information Bureau (PIB) on Feb 15, 2019 shows Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi speaking during the inauguration and foundation stone laying ceremony of various development projects in Jhansi, in the Indian state of Uttar Pradesh. (AFP PHOTO / PIB)
Pakistan is due to host peace talks next week between the Afghan Taliban and the United States as part of efforts to seek a political settlement to the Afghan war, but escalating tensions with India could divert Pakistan’s attention.
The Line of Control, the de facto border dividing Indian- and Pakistani-held Kashmir, is widely regarded as one of the world’s most dangerous flashpoints
As outrage and demands for revenge flooded Indian social media, Arun Jaitley, one of the most senior figures in the Hindu nationalist-led government, told reporters India would work to ensure the “complete isolation” of Pakistan.
The first step, he said, would include removing most favored nation (MFN) trade privileges that had been accorded to Pakistan - though annual bilateral trade between the countries is barely US$2 billion.
The last major attack in Kashmir was in 2016 when Jaish militants raided an Indian army camp, killing 20 soldiers. Weeks later, Modi ordered a surgical strike on suspected militant camps across the border in Pakistan Kashmir.
When he swept to power in 2014, Modi vowed to pursue a tough line with Pakistan. The two countries have gone to war three times since independence from Britain in 1947, twice over Kashmir.
The Line of Control, the de facto border dividing Indian- and Pakistani-held Kashmir, is widely regarded as one of the world’s most dangerous flashpoints, especially after the two countries became nuclear armed states in 1998.
CALLS FOR REVENGE
Indian Foreign Secretary Vijay Gokhale summoned Pakistan’s ambassador, Sohail Mahmood, and issued a demarche demanding Pakistan take verifiable action against Jaish. India also recalled its ambassador in Pakistan for consultations, a government source said.
Crowds gathered in Jammu, the Hindu-dominated part of Jammu and Kashmir state, demanding stronger action against Pakistan.
A curfew was briefly imposed in Jammu after crowds overturned and set fire to some vehicles. Protesters were also marching to the Pakistani embassy in New Delhi.
The attack comes at a difficult time for Pakistan, which is struggling to attract foreign investment and avert a payments crisis, with its swiftly diminishing foreign currency reserves at less than US$8 billion, equivalent to two months of import payments.
The escalating tension risks overshadowing a visit to the region by the Saudi crown prince, who is due in Islamabad over the weekend and New Delhi next week, with both governments hoping to attract Saudi investment.
India’s Home Minister Rajnath Singh flew into Srinagar, the main city in Indian Kashmir, and joined mourners carrying the coffins of the dead policemen, before they were sent to their homes across India.
Hundreds of thousands of Indian troops are deployed in Kashmir. Singh said civilian vehicles will be stopped if there is a major movement of military convoys on the main highway following Thursday’s attack.
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