New Delhi: After one of the deadliest attacks on security forces in Kashmir Valley, India accused Pakistan of giving “full freedom” to Jaish-e-Mohammed (JeM) to operate on its territory, reiterated the need to list Masood Azhar as a UNSC-designated terrorist and asserted that it was “committed to take all necessary measures” for national security.
Over 40 jawans of the paramilitary Central Reserve Police Force (CRPF) were killed on Thursday when a suicide bomber rammed his explosives-laden SUV into the CRPF convoy on the Srinagar-Jammu highway.
In terms of casualties, this was probably the deadliest attack by a terror group against Indian security forces in Kashmir.
Pakistan-based JeM took responsibility for the attack in a statement to a local news agency in Kashmir. The group also identified the suicide bomber as a resident of Kashmir’s Pulwama.
The first official statement from the Ministry of External Affairs condemned the “cowardly terrorist attack” in the “strongest terms”.
India also confirmed that JeM, “a Pakistan-based and supported terrorist organisation proscribed by the United Nations and other countries”, was behind the attack.
“This terror group is led by the international terrorist Masood Azhar, who has been given full freedom by Government of Pakistan 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,” the statement said.
Asserting that the Indian government was “firmly resolutely committed to take all necessary steps to safeguard national security,” the MEA also added that India was also “equally resolved to fight against the menace of terrorism”.
“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,” Indian stated.
India cut off all efforts to resume bilateral dialogue with Pakistan after the attack on the Pathankot airbase in January 2016. In September 2016, India announced that it had conducted “surgical strikes” across the Line of Control against terrorists after a fidayeen attack on an army camp at Uri.
Issue of listing Masood Azhar as global terrorist
Meanwhile, India again raised the issue of listing the JeM supremo as a UN-designated terrorist.
“We strongly reiterate our appeal to all members of the international community to support the proposal to list terrorists, including JeM Chief Masood Azhar, as a designated terrorist under the 1267 Sanctions Committee of the UN Security Council and to ban terrorist organisations operating from territories controlled by Pakistan,” said the statement.
China has kept the listing of Masood Azhar on “technical hold” since 2017 on grounds that there was “no consensus” in the sanctions committee. The last time China restated that it had not changed its mind was following the high-level meeting on security cooperation in October 2018. This was despite the upward trend in relations between India and China after the informal Wuhan Summit last January.
Just after midnight, Pakistan foreign office issued a response that fell short of direct condemnation of the attack. “Attack in Pulwama in the Indian occupied Jammu and Kashmir is a matter of grave concern. We have always condemned heightened acts of violence in the Valley,” it said.
Not surprisingly, Pakistan dismissed India’s assertion that Jaish-e-Mohammad had been given full rein on its territory. “We strongly reject any insinuation by elements in the Indian government and media circles that seek to link the attack to State of Pakistan without investigations,” said the foreign office statement.
Incidentally, the Pakistan foreign office issued the official statement twice after tweaking the language significantly.
The first version said that Pakistan had condemned “acts of violence anywhere in the world”. This was replaced with a more localised focus only on Kashmir and a clarification that Islamabad had always condemned “heightened acts of violence”.
The second noteworthy change was in the last sentence. “Pakistan” was substituted with “state of Pakistan” in the last line while rejecting Indian assertions of a Pakistani link to the attack on the CRPF convoy.
Relations between India and Pakistan – which have remained tense in the last few years – are expected to get further strained after the latest attack, with the Indian government under pressure to show effective retaliation in the charged political atmosphere in the run-up to general elections.
Just a few hours before the attack, India had even taunted Pakistan that if it wanted to talk about the issue of minorities, then it should provide a response on the treatment of Uighurs in Xinjiang. Indian spokesperson added primly that New Delhi did not want to comment on Xinjiang as it doesn’t interfere in another country’s internal affairs.
Even during this strained period, there have been operational meetings, with the latest being the visit of Pakistan’s Indus commissioner to India. Both countries have also recently agreed to hold the first meeting of senior officials to work out the modalities for the Kartarpur trans-border pilgrim corridor on March 14.
Former Indian diplomats advocate ‘strong action’
Former Indian high commissioner to Pakistan, Sharat Sabharwal said that India now has to pursue strong action following the Pulwama attack.
Noting that the attacker was a local Kashmiri and not a Pakistani national as in previous attacks, Sabharwal said that there was “also need for political steps”. He pointed out that alienation of the local population is an issue which needs to be addressed.
However, he does not feel India would withdraw from the implementation of the Kartarpur corridor, which is slated for opening on the 550th birth anniversary of the founder of Sikhism, Guru Nanak in November. “This is related to the sentiments of our own citizens,” he said.
Another former ambassador, who had been posted in the region, also said that the government will need to take steps, but space should be given for it to reach the right conclusion.
“The government should be allowed to take a decision in a clinical way and without any pressure,” said the former Indian diplomat, who did not want to be identified.
Similarly, Dilip Sinha, who had been in charge of the Pakistan, Iran and Afghanistan desk at MEA headquarters from 2005 to 2007, said that India should take strong action after proper investigation.
“When we sometimes say that strong action has to be taken after consideration, it is sometimes misunderstood to mean that we are not advocating for action. Strong action should definitely be taken….only after we know why this has happened, who was responsible…,” he said.
In diplomatic steps, Sinha stated that breaking of ties and recall of ambassadors could be considered.
He noted that there had been an attack with a similar modus operandi in Iran two days earlier. Jaish al-Adl, a terror group based in Pakistan, had claimed responsibility for the death of 27 IRGC guards. They were killed in a suicide attack on a bus transporting Revolutionary Guards between the cities of Zahedan and Khash on Wednesday.
Since the attack, there has been an outpouring of sympathy from world capitals.
In the neighbourhood, Nepal Prime Minister K.P. Oli called up Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi to condemn the attack and express condolences. There were similar sentiments expressed by the top leadership of Bhutan, Maldives, Sri Lanka and Afghanistan.
Bangladesh Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina wrote to Modi that “at this sad moment, we stand by the people and the government of India”.
“Bangladesh remains steadfast in its commitment against terrorism of all forms and manifestations and maintains a zero-tolerance policy against all terrorist activities,” she wrote.
From the rest of Asia, ambassadors of Japan and Thailand also joined the chorus of condemning the attack. UAE’s foreign ministry conveyed “solidarity with the government and people of India in their fight against violence and extremism”.
Chinese foreign ministry spokesperson issued a statement on Friday morning condemning the attack, but also indicated that it would not remove its ‘technical hold’ on the listing of Jaish-e-Mohammed chief Masood Azhar.
Iran foreign ministry spokesperson Bahram Qassemi said that such “bloody and inhumane” terror attacks were “unacceptable”.
“As a country that has been a victim of terrorism and has taken major and effective steps to root out terrorist groups in the West Asia region and has paid heavy costs and is resolved to keep up this path with strong determination, we believe using such bloody and inhumane methods by any group and with any motive and under any name is unacceptable,” he said.
Saudi Arabia also issued a statement on the “Kingdom’s rejection of these cowardly terrorist acts and its stand with the friendly Republic of India against terrorism and extremism, offering condolences to the families of the victims, Indian government and people and wishing the injuries a speedy recovery”.
Israeli ambassador to India, Ron Malka tweeted that Israel “stands by our Indian friends during this difficult hour”.
Australian prime minister, Scott Morrison and his foreign minister Marise Payne both issued statements condemning the attack in the early hours of Friday.
Russian president Vladimir Putin wrote to his Indian counterpart Ram Nath Kovind that the “perpetrators and sponsors of this attack, should be punished”.
The EU expressed “full solidarity”, adding that it “stands by India in fighting terrorism and will continue to strengthen its cooperation in this regard.”
Noting that Germany condemned “terrorism of all forms”, its foreign ministry tweeted that it stood by its “strategic partner India”.
French foreign minister Jean-Yves Le Drian directly named Jaish-e-Muhammad as being behind the attack and called for an end to terror funding and “cross-border movement” of terror groups.
“I call on each state to take effective measures to combat the terrorist networks and their funding channels and to prevent the cross-border movement of terrorist groups such as Jaish-e-Muhammad, which has claimed responsibility for this attack,” he said.
The US state department deputy spokesperson Robert Palladino also noted that Jaish-e-Muhammed had claimed responsibility for the attack. “We call on all countries to uphold their responsibilities pursuant to UN Security Council resolutions to deny safe haven and support for terrorists,” he added, without taking Pakistan’s name.
Later, White House press secretary Sarah Sanders 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.”
“This attack only strengthens our resolve to bolster counterterrorism cooperation and coordination between the United States and India,” she added.
Canada condemned the “cowardly attack” and stated that it stands by India in the fight against terrorism.
The UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres also “strongly” condemned the attack through his spokesperson on Thursday night in New York.
Dean of diplomatic corps in Delhi Dominican Republic’s Hans Danneberg Castellanos also issued a statement on behalf of all foreign diplomats in India condemning the attack.
He said that there was “no justification whatsoever of such acts of terrorism”, adding “we firmly stand by the Government of India in the fight against terrorism”.