At least 49 Indian paramilitary police were killed in a suicide attack in the Kashmir region on Thursday, prompting an immediate war of words between the nuclear-armed nations of India and Pakistan.
An explosive-laden car obliterated a bus on a major highway around 20km from the regional capital, Srinagar. Indian television broadcast footage of the vehicle, which had been part of a 78-vehicle convoy, showing it had been completely destroyed by the force of the blast with local media reporting that up to 350kg of explosives were used. It was the biggest strike against an Indian military target since September 2016, when four militants killed 19 Indian soldiers at an Indian army base in Uri near the de facto border that divides the Muslim-majority region between India and Pakistan.
Indian authorities said that the suicide bomber in Thursday’s attack appeared to have been a local Kashmiri militant, affiliated with the Jaish e-Mohammed, which had earlier claimed responsibility for the carnage.
In a forceful statement on Thursday night, India’s foreign affairs ministry accused Islamabad of giving “full freedom” to Jaish, and its leader Masood 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”. It added: “We demand that Pakistan stop supporting terrorists and terror groups operating from their territory, and dismantle the infrastructure operated by terrorist outfits to launch attacks in other countries.”
The US also condemned the attack by what it noted was a “Pakistan-based terrorist group” and issued a statement calling on Pakistan to “end immediately the support and safe haven provided to all terrorist groups operating on its soil”. “This attack only strengthens our resolve to bolster counter-terrorism co-operation and co-ordination between the United States and India,” the White House statement added.
Pakistan’s foreign ministry denied that it had any role. “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 ministry said in a statement. The violence comes at a sensitive and politically charged time for India as the country gears up for parliamentary elections, which must be completed by the end of May.
While condemning the attack, The Ministry of Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation of UAE said in a statement that the UAE “condemns this terrorist act,” reiterating the country’s principled and unequivocal position rejecting all forms of violence and terrorism.
As Indian authorities struggled to assess the full extent of Thursday’s blast, Mr Modi and other cabinet members denounced the attack, vowing retribution to those responsible.
In a tweet, Mr Modi, who abandoned a planned campaign rally to rush back to New Delhi for emergency meetings, strongly condemned the “dastardly attack”.
A high alert has been sounded across Kashmir in the wake of a deadly Fidayeen attack on a central reserve police force convoy in Lethpora area, officials said.