PM Modi warns of retaliation

Prime Minister Narendra Modi warned Pakistan on Friday to expect a strong response to a suicide attack that killed 44 Central Reserve Police Force (CRPF) personnel in Kashmir, ratcheting up tension between the nuclear-armed neighbours. The Central Reserve Police Force (CRPF) is the largest of India's Central Armed Police Forces. It functions under the aegis of Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA) of the Government of India....

Prime Minister Narendra Modi warned Pakistan on Friday to expect a strong response to a suicide attack that killed 44 Central Reserve Police Force (CRPF) personnel in Kashmir, ratcheting up tension between the nuclear-armed neighbours.

Background

The Central Reserve Police Force (CRPF) is the largest of India's Central Armed Police Forces. It functions under the aegis of Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA) of the Government of India. The CRPF's primary role lies in assisting the State/Union Territories in police operations to maintain law and order and counter insurgency.

Starting in 2015, Pakistan-based militants in Kashmir increasingly took to high-profile suicide attacks against the Indian security forces. In July 2015, three gunmen attacked a bus and police station in Gurdaspur. Early in 2016, four to six gunmen attacked the Pathankot Air Force Station. In February and June 2016, the militants killed nine and eight security personnel respectively in Pampore. In September 2016, four assailants attacked an Indian Army brigade headquarters in Uri killing 19 soldiers. On 31 December 2017, the Commando Training Centre at Lethpora was also attacked by militants killing five security personnel. These attacks took place in the vicinity of the Jammu Srinagar National Highway.

On 14 February 2019, a convoy of vehicles carrying security personnel on the Jammu Srinagar National Highway was attacked by a vehicle-bound suicide bomber in Lethpora near Awantipora, Pulwama district, Jammu and Kashmir, India. The attack resulted in the death of 46 Central Reserve Police Force (CRPF) personnel and the attacker. Responsibility for the attack was claimed by the Pakistan-based Islamist militant group Jaish-e-Mohammed.

Analysis

The car bomb attack on a security convoy on Thursday was the worst in decades of insurgency in the disputed region. India said it had “incontrovertible evidence” of Pakistani involvement, a statement quickly rejected by Islamabad. “We will give a befitting reply, our neighbour will not be allowed to destabilise us,” Modi said in a speech, after meeting security advisers to discuss options.

The attack comes months before national elections in India. The Pakistan-based Islamist militant group Jaish-e-Mohammad (JeM) claimed responsibility soon after a suicide bomber rammed an explosives-laden car into a bus carrying CRPF personnel.

India has for years accused Muslim Pakistan of backing separatist militants in divided Kashmir, which currently both countries stake full claim to, but rule in part. Pakistan denies the accusation, saying it only offers political support to the Himalayan region’s suppressed Muslim people.

The White House urged Pakistan “to end immediately the support and safe haven provided to all terrorist groups operating on its soil”. Pakistan is due to host peace talks next week between the Afghan Taliban and the United States as part of efforts to seek a political settlement to the Afghan war, but escalating tensions with India could divert Pakistan’s attention.

As outrage and demands for revenge flooded Indian social media, Arun Jaitley, one of the most senior figures in the Hindu nationalist-led government, told reporters India would work to ensure the “complete isolation” of Pakistan. The first step, he said, would include removing most favoured nation (MFN) trade privileges that had been accorded to Pakistan - though annual bilateral trade between the countries is barely $2 billion.

The last major attack in Kashmir was in 2016 when Jaish militants raided an Indian army camp, killing 20 soldiers. Weeks later, Modi ordered a surgical strike on suspected militant camps across the border in Pakistan Kashmir. When he swept to power in 2014, Modi vowed to pursue a tough line with Pakistan. The two countries have gone to war three times since independence from Britain in 1947, twice over Kashmir.

The Line of Control, the de facto border dividing Indian- and Pakistani-held Kashmir, is widely regarded as one of the world’s most dangerous flashpoints, especially after the two countries became nuclear-armed states in 1998.

Indian Foreign Secretary Vijay Gokhale summoned Pakistan’s ambassador, Sohail Mahmood, and issued a demarche demanding that Islamabad take verifiable action against Jaish. India also recalled its ambassador in Pakistan for consultations, a government source said. Pakistan’s foreign ministry also summoned the Indian Deputy High Commissioner in Islamabad to reject New Delhi’s “baseless allegations”.

The attack comes at a difficult time for Pakistan, which is struggling to attract foreign investment and avert a payments crisis, with its swiftly diminishing foreign currency reserves at less than $8 billion, equivalent to two months of import payments.

The escalating tension carries the risk of overshadowing a visit to the region by the Saudi crown prince, who is due in Islamabad over the weekend and New Delhi next week, with both governments hoping to attract Saudi investment.

Assessment

Our assessment is that violent non-state actors are trying to sabotage the fragile peace between India and Pakistan. We believe that a strong retaliation to the attack will be the call of the government. At the same time, it would be hard to execute such a strategy as the attack originated from within the country. It would be extremely important for intelligence agencies to credibly identify the source of the attack and confront the perpetrators. We also feel that PM Modi may tread with caution due to the impending elections.

 

 

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