India’s Prime Minister Narendra Modi on Friday promised a strong response to a car bombing in Kashmir that killed 44 paramilitary that his government blamed on Pakistan, ratcheting up tensions with the nuclear-rival.
The attack on a military convoy in Jammu and Kashmir where India has been battling an insurgency was the worst in decades and comes just months before Modi’s ruling Hindu nationalists face a tight general election.
“We will give a befitting reply, our neighbor will not be allowed to destabilize us,” Modi said in a speech soon after he called his security advisers to consider a response to the attack that has provoked an outpouring of anger on social media and demands for retribution.
The Pakistan-based Islamist militant group Jaish-e-Mohammad (JeM) claimed responsibility soon after a suicide bomber rammed his car laden with explosives into a bus carrying Central Reserve Police Force personnel on Thursday.
The Indian government said it had incontrovertible evidence of Pakistan’s involvement in the attack. Islamabad rejected the suggestion it was linked to the attack.
India will take all possible diplomatic steps to ensure the “complete isolation” of Pakistan, cabinet minister Arun Jaitley told reporters soon after the cabinet committee met at Modi’s residence.
As a first step, this would include India removing most favored nation (MFN) trade privileges given to Pakistan, Jaitley said.
“The ministry of external affairs will initiate all possible steps, and I am here referring to all possible diplomatic steps which have to be taken to ensure the complete isolation from the international community of Pakistan,” he said.
But bilateral trade between India and Pakistan is barely $2 billion per year and Modi facing a tough election is likely to come under pressure for a more muscular response.
He took office in 2014 promising to tackle Muslim Pakistan, with which India has twice gone to war since independence from Britain in 1947
Kashmir is a Muslim-majority region at the heart of decades of hostility between India and Pakistan. The neighbors both rule parts of the region while claiming the entire territory as theirs.
The last major attack in Kashmir was in 2016 when militants raided an Indian army camp in Uri, killing 20 soldiers. Modi responded with a surgical strike on suspected militant camps across the border in Pakistan Kashmir weeks later.
Pakistan’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs called the latest Kashmir attack a matter of “grave concern”.
But in a brief statement early on Friday it added: “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.”
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”. It said the attack strengthens U.S. resolve to step up counter-terrorism cooperation with India.