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India vows 'crushing response' to attack on troops in Kashmir

  • 15 Feb 2019

India warns Pakistan of consequences after a suicide bombing by a local Kashmiri militant killed at least 44 Indian paramilitary soldiers in disputed Kashmir. Islamabad rejects New Delhi's accusations.

India's PM Narendra Modi pays tribute as he stands next to the coffins containing the remains of Central Reserve Police Force personnel who were killed after a suicide bomber rammed a car into a bus carrying them in disputed Kashmir on Thursday, at Palam airport in New Delhi, India, February 15, 2019. ( Reuters )

India's prime minister warned on Friday of a "crushing response" to the suicide bombing of a convoy in India-administered Kashmir which killed 44 paramilitary soldiers and was the deadliest in the divided region's volatile history.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi placed the blame for Thursday's bombing squarely on neighbouring Pakistan, which India accuses of supporting rebels in Kashmir.

"Our neighbouring country thinks such terror attacks can weaken us, but their plans will not materialize," he said, adding that government forces have been "given total freedom" to deal with the militants.

"Security forces have been given permission to take decisions about the timing, place and nature of their response," he said.

Pakistan protests baseless allegations

Pakistan's Foreign Office summoned India's Acting Deputy High Commissioner Gaurav Ahluwalia on Friday to  lodge a protest against New Delhi's "baseless allegations" against Islamabad over the attack.

Pakistan's ruling also party rejected Modi's allegation, saying India's ruling party was blaming Pakistan for the attack for political gains in the upcoming national election.

"The Indian allegations against Pakistan over yesterday's incident are part of the election campaign," said Naeemul Haq, a senior leader of the Tehreek-e-Insaf party, which came to power in last year's parliamentary election.

He said the violence in Kashmir was "the result of the brutalities of Indian occupied forces in Kashmir."

TRT World's Natasha Hussain has more.

Tensions soar

The attack has ratcheted up already high tensions between the nuclear-armed neighbours, who both administer parts of the disputed territory but each claim it entirely.

Indian Finance Minister Arun Jaitley announced on Friday that New Delhi was withdrawing the most-favoured-nation trade status given to Pakistan and would take all possible diplomatic steps "to ensure the complete isolation from the international community of Pakistan of which incontrovertible evidence is available of having a direct hand in this gruesome terrorist incident."

India's foreign ministry also summoned the Pakistani ambassador to protest the attack.

Pakistan's foreign ministry said the country condemns acts of violence anywhere in the world and denied any involvement.

"We strongly reject any insinuation by elements in the Indian media and government that seek to link the attack to Pakistan without investigations," it said in a statement.

Rebels, many of whom want Kashmir united with Pakistan, have been fighting Indian control since 1989. 

But the Muslim-majority region has experienced renewed attacks and repeated public protests in recent years as a new generation of Kashmiri rebels, especially in the southern parts of the region, has challenged New Delhi's rule with a mixture of violence and social media.

In Thursday's attack, a local Kashmiri militant rammed an explosive-laden van into a bus traveling in the paramilitary convoy. In addition to the dead, the attack wounded nearly two dozen other soldiers, India's paramilitary Central Reserve Police Force spokesman Sanjay Sharma said.

Police said the bus was destroyed and at least five other vehicles were damaged.

They 'made him rub his nose on ground'

The Greater Kashmir newspaper reported that militant group Jaish-e-Mohammed claimed responsibility. A pre-recorded video circulated on social media sites showed the purported attacker in combat clothes and surrounded by guns and grenades.

"We are in pain in the same way the families of the soldiers are," said farmer Ghulam Hassan Dar, adding that his son, Adil Ahmad Dar, 20, had been radicalised after police stopped him and his friends on the way home from school in 2016.

"They were stopped by the troops and beaten up and harassed," Dar said, adding that the students were accused of stone-pelting. "Since then, he wanted to join the militants."

The Indian police "made him rub his nose on ground… They forced the boy to make a circle around their jeep with his nose. He kept mentioning this incident again and again," Dar told Scroll.in.

A video released by the militant group after the attack showed his son, dressed in military fatigues and carrying an automatic rifle, detailing his plan to carry out the bombing.

His mother, Fahmeeda, corroborated her husband's account.

"He was beaten by Indian troops a few years back when he was returning from school," she said. "This led to anger in him against Indian troops."

Both parents said they were unaware of their son's plan to attack the convoy.

Hundreds visit rebel's home

Authorities imposed a security lockdown in the southern Kakapora area to stop people from assembling at the home of the militant who allegedly attacked the convoy. 

Still, hundreds of people were able to reach his home by crossing rice fields and orchards, and offered prayers there.

Authorities suspended security convoys in the Kashmir valley on Friday and Home Minister Rajnath Singh arrived in Srinagar to review the security situation. He said civilian traffic would be stopped during the movement of convoys in Kashmir.

India's muscular approach

Meanwhile, three top Kashmiri leaders known as the Joint Resistance Leadership who challenge India's sovereignty over Kashmir said they regretted the killings. 

They said in a statement that India's "muscular military approach to counter an essentially political and human problem is wreaking havoc in Kashmir, especially on the next generation."

"Those who are here to execute this policy are also under stress and paying a price with their lives," they said.

Hindu mobs attack Muslim neighbourhoods

The attack has raised tensions elsewhere in Hindu-majority India. 

Hundreds of residents carrying India's national flag in Hindu-dominated Jammu city in the Muslim-majority region burned vehicles and hurled rocks at homes in Muslim neighbourhoods, officials said. Authorities imposed a curfew and appealed for restraint.

Some people were reported injured in the mob attacks.

Nearly 100 protesters chanting slogans such as "Pakistan down, down!" and "Attack Pakistan, Attack," burned an effigy of Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan in a park close to India's Parliament in New Delhi. They later dispersed.

Unresolved dispute

India and Pakistan have fought three wars since gaining independence from Britain in 1947 and regularly exchange fire along their highly militarised border in Kashmir.

Indian soldiers are ubiquitous in Kashmir and local residents make little secret of their fury toward their presence in the Himalayan region.

Most Kashmiris support the rebels' demand that the territory to be united either under Pakistani rule or as an independent country, while also participating in civilian street protests against Indian control.

Since 1989, about 100,000 people have been killed in the uprising and the ensuing Indian crackdown. Last year's death toll was the highest since 2009, with at least 260 rebels, 160 civilians and 150 government forces killed.

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