NEW DELHI - Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi vowed a strong response to a deadly attack on security personnel in Indian Kashmir as New Delhi said that there was "incontrovertible evidence" that Pakistan had a "direct hand" in the assault and called for its complete isolation.
After meeting his security advisers on Friday, Modi promised that those behind the attack will pay a “very heavy price” and said security forces will be given a free hand to respond to the terrorists.
“If our neighbor thinks such attacks can destabilize us, their plans will not materialize,” the prime minister said at an event in New Delhi. “I assure the country that the forces behind the attack, the culprits behind this attack – they will definitely be punished for their actions."
The Pakistan-based Islamist group Jaish-e-Mohammad has taken responsibility for the suicide car bombing that targeted a paramilitary convoy on Thursday and killed at least 40 soldiers – the worst attack in the restive region in decades.
India accuses Pakistan of providing sanctuary to the Jaish-e-Mohammad and has demanded Islamabad stop supporting terror groups operating from its territory.
Islamabad has rejected any link to the attack. In a statement, the Pakistan foreign ministry said that “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.”
Finance Minister Arun Jaitely said New Delhi 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.” He said India is revoking Delhi trade privileges granted to its neighbor in 1996.
Removing trade privileges is seen as a symbolic response -- with trade at a paltry $2 billion between the two countries, it will not have any significant impact.
India accuses the Jaish-e-Mohammad of carrying out some of the deadliest attacks in the country, including an assault on its parliament in 2001 that brought the two countries to the brink of war. The group has been designated a "terrorist" organization by the United Nations, United States and several other countries.
Kashmir, which lies at the heart of a bitter dispute between India and Pakistan, is divided between the two countries. While India accuses Pakistan of supporting militant groups that carry out attacks in Indian Kashmir, Pakistan accuses India of human rights abuses in its only Muslim-majority region.
The latest attack comes more than two years after a militant raid on an army camp in Indian Kashmir killed 19 soldiers and prompted India to mount surgical strikes on militant camps in Pakistan.
That has raised speculation about how New Delhi will respond to Thursday’s assault. But even as it takes a tough posture, analysts point out that India does not have many options.
Security analyst Manoj Joshi at the Observer Research Foundation says any action “must be strong enough to reflect India’s anger at this attack, but it should be below a certain threshold so that it does not trigger other problems. It is not an easy thing.”
Analysts also point out that the surgical strikes in 2016 had no deterrent effect on militant attacks in India.
The latest attack has been condemned by many countries including the United States, which called "on Pakistan to end immediately the support and safe haven provided to all terrorist groups operating on its soil, whose only goal is to sow chaos, violence, and terror in the region."