India’s Prime Minister Narendra Modi has promised a “strong response” to a car bombing in Kashmir that killed at least 42 troops, with New Delhi calling for “the complete isolation of Pakistan” for harbouring the armed group behind the devastating attack.
“We will give a befitting reply,” Modi said in a speech on Friday morning, soon after he called his security advisers to consider a response to the worst attack on Indian security forces in decades.
“Those who committed this heinous act will pay a heavy price. Those who supported it will definitely be punished,” he was quoted as saying by the Indian Express newspaper.
“If our neighbour thinks it can destabilise India, then it is making a big mistake.”
Thursday’s attack was claimed by the Pakistan-based Jaish-e-Mohammad (JeM) soon after a Kashmiri rebel rammed an explosive-laden car into a bus carrying personnel of the Central Reserve Police Force (CRPF).
The bombing has ratcheted up already hostile tensions between the two South Asian neighbours, which rule parts of Muslim-majority Kashmir while claiming the entire territory as theirs.
Pakistan has denied any involvement and warned India against linking it to the attack, but Arun Jaitley, India’s foreign minister, said there was “incontrovertible evidence” that Islamabad had a “direct hand in this gruesome attack”.
He told reporters India would ensure “the complete isolation of Pakistan from the international community”. The first step, he said, would include India removing most-favoured-nation privileges given to Pakistan under World Trade Organization rules.
|Protesters in Jammu set fire to vehicles, prompting authorities to declare a curfew [Channi Anand/ AP]
Meanwhile, as outrage and demands for revenge flooded Indian social media, the country’s Foreign Secretary Vijay Gokhale summoned Pakistan’s envoy, Sohail Mahmood, and served a diplomatic notice demanding Islamabad take action against JeM.
Curfew in Jammu
In Kashmir’s Jammu region, thousands of protesters held anti-Pakistan demonstrations and set fire to dozens of vehicles, prompting police to impose a curfew, local media said.
At least 12 people were injured in the protests, NDTV reported.
In Mumbai, India’s financial capital, supporters of Modi’s Bharatiya Janata Party burned symbolic effigies of Pakistan.
Islamabad has rejected India’s suggestion it was linked to the attack, which it called a matter of “grave concern”.
“We strongly reject any insinuation by elements in the Indian government and media circles that seek to link the attack to the State of Pakistan without investigations,” Pakistan’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs said in a statement on Friday.
Islamabad has previously denied New Delhi’s accusations that it gives material help to armed groups fighting Indian rule in Kashmir.
It said it gives only moral and diplomatic support to the Kashmiri people in their struggle for self-determination.
|Students in city of Ahmadabad pay tribute to CRPF personnel who were killed in Kashmir [Amit Dave/Reuters]
‘This could get bad’
Sreeram Chaulia, professor of international relations at the Jindal School of International Affairs in India, said the Kashmir bombing strains ties that “were already at rock-bottom” between New Delhi and Islamabad.
India will now look at a “whole gamut of retaliatory measures, including military options, diplomatic isolation” and even cross-border raids, Chaulia told Al Jazeera from Sonipat, a city near the Indian capital.
But revoking trade privileges will not “hurt much”, he said, as “Pakistan exports less than $1bn worth of products to India because of strained relations”.
Chaulia, who backed India’s claim that Pakistan harbours armed groups, added: “We need to lobby China and the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation, we need to turn to Western countries, to try and create a regional consensus that this is not acceptable and change Pakistan’s behavior.”
Moeed Yusuf from the US Institute of Peace said the “current situation has all the making of an India-Pakistan crisis”.
The next 24-48 hours will be crucial, he told the AFP news agency, warning, “This could get bad.”
He added: “The hope was that India and Pakistan will get back to talking after the Indian elections later this year. I think the hawks on both sides are going to make it very difficult for that to happen now.”
|Thursday’s car bombing was the deadliest attack on Indian security forces in decades [Younis Khaliq/ Reuters]
Meanwhile, the Indian government has urged the UN to list JeM chief Masood Azhar as a designated “terrorist”.
In a statement hours after the attack, the Indian foreign ministry accused Pakistani government of allowing Azhar “to operate and expand his terror infrastructure in territories under the control of Pakistan and to carry out attacks in India and elsewhere with impunity”.
China, Pakistan’s ally, has previously blocked Azhar’s inclusion on the UN Security Council’s sanctions list.
The JeM leader’s whereabouts remain unknown; he has not been charged with a crime in Pakistan and has not made any public appearances since he was detained there in 2016.
For its part, China said on Friday it was “deeply shocked” by the Kashmir attack.
But Geng Shuang, spokesperson for the Chinese foreign ministry declined to answer reporters’ questions on Azhar’s listing, saying Beijing “will main close communication on this with all parties concerned, including India”.
The White House urged Pakistan in a statement “to end immediately the support and safe haven provided to all terrorist groups operating on its soil”.
WATCH: India’s PM Modi visits Kashmir amid strike, protests (2:36)
The attack strengthens US resolve to step up counterterrorism cooperation with India, it said.
Kashmir has experienced renewed rebel attacks and repeated public protests against Indian rule in the past few years as a new generation of Kashmiri rebels, especially in the southern parts of the region, has revived an armed struggle and challenged New Delhi’s rule with guns and social media.
The anti-India unrest grew significantly after a popular rebel leader, Burhan Wani, was killed by security forces in 2016.
The Indian government responded with stepped-up anti-rebel operations, leading to more protests.
Last year’s death toll was the highest since 2009, including at least 260 rebel fighters, 160 civilians and 150 government forces.
About 70,000 people have been killed in the uprising and the ensuing Indian crackdown since 1989.