India and Pakistan’s troubled ties yesterday risked taking a dangerous new turn as New Delhi accused Islamabad of harboring militants behind one of the deadliest attacks in three decades of bloodshed in Indian-administered Kashmir.
At least 41 paramilitary troops were killed on Thursday as explosives packed in a van ripped through a convoy carrying 2,500 troops back from leave not far from the region’s main city, Srinagar, police said.
Local media reported that the Pakistan-based Jaish-e-Mohammed group claimed responsibility, with the vehicle driven by a known local militant, Aadil Ahmad, also known as Waqas Commando.
Kashmir has been split between India and Pakistan since independence from Britain in 1947, with both nuclear-armed countries, which have fought three wars, claiming it as their own.
Jaish-e-Mohammed is largely considered to be one of the most active Pakistan-based insurgent groups fighting in Kashmir.
The Indian Ministry of External Affairs said that Jaish-e-Mohammed leader Masood Azhar “has been given full freedom by ... 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.”
“I want to tell the terrorist groups and their masters that they have committed a big mistake. They have to pay a heavy price,” Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi said after an emergency Cabinet meeting yesterday.
“Security forces have been given a free hand to deal with terrorists,” Modi said, adding that the “blood of the people is boiling.”
Indian Minister of Finance Arun Jaitley promised to isolate Pakistan in the international community.
However, Islamabad hit back at the suggestion that it was involved.
“We strongly reject any insinuation by elements in the Indian media and government that seek to link the attack to Pakistan without investigations,” the Pakistani Ministry of Foreign Affairs said.
The US condemned the attack in “the strongest terms” and called on “all countries ... to deny safe haven and support for terrorists.”
China urged “relevant regional countries” to work for peace.
Two buses of the Central Reserve Police Force in the 78-vehicle convoy on Jammu Srinagar National Highway bore the brunt of the blast, heard kilometers away.
“No one from the first bus survived,” a senior police official told reporters on condition of anonymity, adding that the death toll would likely rise.
Afterward, hundreds of government forces cordoned off about 15 villages in the district the bomber came from and conducted house-to-house searches, a police officer and witnesses said.
Authorities suspended or slowed Internet services across the region as thousands of security personnel patrolled the streets.
Several parts of Jammu, the largely Hindu-majority city in south Kashmir, were under curfew after protesters allegedly attacked Muslim properties.
Protesters in many cities chanted slogans against Pakistan and burned effigies.
India also announced that it was withdrawing its most favored nation status — covering trade links — on Pakistan.
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