India weighs response to deadly Kashmir attack it blames on Pakistan

Published: September 19, 2016
Indian army soldiers carry the coffins of their colleagues who were killed after gunmen attacked an Indian army base in Kashmir's Uri on Sunday, during a wreath laying ceremony in Srinagar, September 19, 2016. PHOTO: REUTERS

Indian army soldiers carry the coffins of their colleagues who were killed after gunmen attacked an Indian army base in Kashmir's Uri on Sunday, during a wreath laying ceremony in Srinagar, September 19, 2016. PHOTO: REUTERS

SRINAGAR/NEW DELHI: India stepped up patrols along its de facto border with Pakistan on Monday after separatists killed 18 soldiers at a nearby army base in occupied Kashmir state, as Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s administration weighed its response to an attack India blames on its neighbour.

The assault, in which four commando-style gunmen burst into the brigade headquarters in Uri at 5:30 am (midnight GMT) on Sunday, was among the deadliest in held Kashmir and has sharply ratcheted up tension between the nuclear-armed rivals.

Army officials said some of the critically wounded had been flown to a hospital in New Delhi and one had died while undergoing treatment. Most of dead and wounded suffered severe burns after their tents and temporary shelters caught fire from incendiary ammunition while they were sleeping.

Military closely monitoring regional developments: army chief

Home Minister Rajnath Singh on Sunday called Pakistan “a terrorist state” and army Lieutenant General Ranbir Singh said troops were “ready to give a befitting response”, without elaborating. Pakistan accused India of apportioning blame before it had properly investigated.

“Pakistan categorically rejects the baseless and irresponsible accusations being levelled by senior officials in Prime Minister Modi’s government,” Prime Minister’s Adviser on Foreign Affairs Sartaj Aziz said in a statement late on Sunday. The army said that India was promoting a “hostile narrative”.

Kashmir, divided between India and Pakistan since 1947, is at the heart the neighbours’ seven decades of mutual distrust. Two of their three wars since independence from Britain have been fought over the region.

Limited options

India’s options to hit back at Pakistan appeared limited, as they carry the risk of escalation. India held back from military retaliation when a militant group killed 166 people in a 2008 rampage through Mumbai for fear of igniting a broader conflict and opted instead for a diplomatic offensive to isolate Islamabad.

An attack on Pathankot, another base near the border, in January also drew a measured response, but the casualty toll was lower than in Sunday’s raid. The concern is that Modi’s government has several times signalled a lower threshold for retaliating against attacks reportedly originated from Pakistan than the previous Congress government, which adopted a policy of “strategic restraint”.

India blatantly trying to deflect attention from Kashmir: Aziz

Among the military options that India could consider are artillery strikes on Pakistan Army positions it alleges are used for helping militants cross over into the Indian occupied Kashmir, military experts say. But that would imperil a 2003 ceasefire along the frontier, although it has frayed in recent years.

A second option on the table would be sending special forces inside Pakistan to attack guerrilla training camps, but that was a high-risk gamble that could easily go wrong, they said. Modi held talks with leaders of his Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) at a cabinet meeting on how to respond. “Our first priority is to fortify every defence base and it is shocking that one of our strategic locations was hit,” a senior aide told Reuters. “It has exposed the flaws and the weakness of our security infrastructure and an immediate overhaul is the first job on hand.”

Eyeball to eyeball

Indian troops searched three ravines that cut across the border in mountainous terrain near Uri, which a senior army official said they believe the militants sneaked across.

Reinforcements were also sent to patrol one of the world’s most heavily militarised frontiers, where Indian and Pakistani forces in places stand eyeball to eyeball and sometimes exchange fire, the army official said. A weekly bus service between Srinagar in Indian-administered Kashmir and Muzaffarabad, the Azad Kashmir capital, operated as normal on Monday however. The bus passed through Uri and passengers waited at the de facto border ready to cross.

The United States, United Kingdom and France have all condemned the attack and said they stand with India in its fight against “terrorism”. India was ranked fifth in the world in terms of military strength, according to a 2015 assessment by Credit Suisse based on data from Stockholm International Peace Research Institute and Global Firepower, compared to 11th for Pakistan.

Pakistan, India readying for UN showdown

Pakistan has an estimated 120 nuclear warheads against India’s 110, according to the Arms Control Association. Sunday’s assault came as India’s portion of Kashmir has been under a major security lockdown during more than two months of protests sparked by the July 8 killing of a commander of another separatist group.

India has long blamed Pakistan for a role in the 27-year long insurgency against its rule in its only Muslim-majority state. Indian army Lieutenant General Ranbir Singh said Sunday’s assault bore the hallmarks of Pakistan-based militant group Jaish-e-Mohammed. But he didn’t offer evidence tying the attack to the group.

Led by extremist hardliner Maulana Masood Azhar from Punjab, Jaish-e-Mohammed was blamed for the January air base raid as well as a 2001 attack on India’s parliament that nearly led to war. Pakistan denies sending fighters into Indian occupied Kashmir. No one has yet claimed responsibility and other militant organisations like Laskhar-e-Taiba have been accused of plotting attacks in India.

Pakistan has called on the United Nations (UN) and the international community to investigate atrocities it alleges have been committed by Indian security forces in Kashmir. The UN is preparing to hold its annual general assembly in New York, where Kashmir is likely to be on the agenda.

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Reader Comments (10)

  • Gruham
    Sep 19, 2016 - 8:09PM

    Pakistan need not worry about India’s response. India will continue to warn Pakistan like it has done umpteen number of times in the past. After all international opinion of India is more important for it than the lives of its own citizens.Recommend

  • Halaku
    Sep 19, 2016 - 8:34PM

    Pakistanis be warned. A APS and Bacha Khan University like attack is imminent. This is what cowards do.Recommend

  • Indian
    Sep 19, 2016 - 8:43PM

    Pakistan should not be worry because our Indian politicians don’t have guts to kill a chicken. They are shameless people who don’t care about soldiers life.Recommend

  • Naim Khan
    Sep 19, 2016 - 8:47PM

    Well Indian army has been killing poor Kashmiris, 100’s have died in last 60 days including women and children, only 17 Indian solders died India started crying, come on you are at war with Kashmiris for god’s sake, please let us shoot you, but you don’t shoot us? Recommend

  • hari
    Sep 19, 2016 - 8:51PM

    PAYBACK TIMERecommend

  • sam ganguly
    Sep 19, 2016 - 8:56PM

    stop the water. period.Recommend

  • Zen
    Sep 19, 2016 - 10:26PM

    The United States, United Kingdom and France have all condemned the attack and said they stand with India in its fight against “terrorism”. Three out of P5 believe India’s version.Recommend

  • Junaid
    Sep 19, 2016 - 10:27PM

    Thats what indians call “karma”.Recommend

  • Junaid
    Sep 19, 2016 - 10:29PM

    It’s “karma”, this what indians call it.Recommend

  • Jai Hind
    Sep 19, 2016 - 11:59PM

    Now hippo will roars…..and Indians run awayRecommend

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