NEW DELHI / SRINAGAR (Reuters) – Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi warned Pakistan on Friday to expect a strong response to a suicide attack that killed 44 paramilitary policemen in Kashmir, shortening tensions between neighbors armed with nuclear weapons.
The attack with a car bomb on a safety convoy on Thursday was the worst of the last decades of rebellion in the disputed region. India said it had "incontrovertible evidence" of Pakistani involvement – although this was quickly denied by Islamabad. [nL3N2094DP]
"We will give an appropriate answer, our neighbor will not be allowed to de-stabilize us," said Modi in a speech, after meeting with the security consultants to discuss options.
The attack comes months before the national elections in India.
Pakistani Islamist militant group Jaish-e-Mohammad (JeM) claimed responsibility immediately after a suicide bomber rammed a car loaded with explosives on a bus carrying police personnel.
For years, India has accused Muslim Pakistan of supporting separatist militants in divided Kashmir, which neighbors claim in full but in part they do.
Pakistan denies this, saying it offers only political support to the repressed Muslim population in the Himalayan region.
The White House has urged Pakistan "to put an immediate end to the support and safe haven provided to all terrorist groups operating on its territory".
Next week Pakistan should host peace talks between the Afghan Taliban and the United States as part of efforts to seek a political solution to the Afghan war, but the escalation of tensions with India may distract Pakistan's attention.
As indignation and revenge demands flooded Indian social media, Arun Jaitley, one of the highest figures of Hindu government led by nationalists, told reporters that India will work to ensure "complete isolation" "from Pakistan.
The first step, he said, would include the removal of the most favored nation trade privileges (MFNs) that had been granted to Pakistan – although annual bilateral trade between countries is just $ 2 billion.
The last major attack in Kashmir was in 2016 when Jaish militants broke into an Indian military camp, killing 20 soldiers. A few weeks later, Modi ordered a surgical attack on suspected militant camps across Pakistan's Kashmir border.
When he came to power in 2014, Modi promised to pursue a hard line with Pakistan. The two countries entered the war three times from independence from Great Britain in 1947, twice on Kashmir.
The line of control, the de facto border dividing Indian and Pakistani Kashmir, is widely regarded as one of the most dangerous points of inflammation in the world, especially after the two countries became nuclear-armed states in 1998.
CALLS FOR SALE
Indian Foreign Secretary Vijay Gokhale convened Pakistan's ambassador, Sohail Mahmood, and promulgated a request calling on Pakistan to undertake verifiable action against Jaish. India also recalled its ambassador to Pakistan for consultations, a government source said.
The crowds have gathered in Jammu, the part dominated by the Hindus of the state of Jammu and Kashmir, calling for a stronger action against Pakistan.
A curfew was briefly imposed on Jammu after the crowds overturned and set fire to some vehicles. The protesters were also marching towards the Pakistani embassy in New Delhi.
The attack comes at a difficult time for Pakistan, which is struggling to attract foreign investment and ward off a payment crisis, with its foreign exchange reserves falling rapidly to less than $ 8 billion, equivalent to two months of import payments.
The intensification of tension risks overshadowing the region's visit by the Saudi hereditary prince, which will be held in Islamabad over the weekend and in New Delhi next week, with both governments hoping to attract Saudi investment.
India's Minister Rajnath Singh flew to Srinagar, the main city of Indian Kashmir, and joined the bereaved people carrying the coffins of dead policemen, before they were sent to their homes throughout India .
Hundreds of thousands of Indian troops are deployed in Kashmir. Singh said civilian vehicles will be stopped if there is an important movement of military convoys on the main road after Thursday's attack.
The separatist insurgency has increased and diminished since the late 80s, but over the past five years it has begun to take hold when a new generation of Kashmir has been attracted to militancy.
Shortly after Thursday's attack, Jaish published photographs and a video of a young Kashmir resident, Adil Ahmad Dar, who said he had committed suicide attack on the convoy.
In the video, Dar warned of further attacks to avenge the violations of human rights in Kashmir. On Friday, hundreds of people gathered in his village of Lethipora to mourn his death.
His parents told Reuters that the twenty-year-old took the gun after being beaten by the troops in Kashmir three years ago.
Jaish is one of the most deadly groups operating in Kashmir.[nL3N20A36V]
In 2001, he mounted an attack on the New Delhi parliament that brought India and Pakistan to the edge of the war.
Indian efforts to add leader Jaish Masood Azhar to a black list of Al Qaeda terrorists have been blocked by China.
Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Geng Shuang expressed "deep shock" at the latest attack.
China has firmly opposed and strongly condemned all terrorism and hopes that "the countries concerned in the region" can cooperate to combat the threat, he told reporters.
Additional reporting of Sudarshan Varadhan; Editing by Simon Cameron-Moore, Robert Birsel