On Thursday 14 February, 40 Indian Security Forces were killed when a car full of explosives rammed into their vehicle, the deadliest attack in Kashmir since 1989. Casualties are expected to rise, with many victims in critical condition. The incident happened in the Pulwama district of Indian-administered Kashmir. According to BBC News, the car carried around 300-350 kg of explosives and was driven by a suicide bomber, who rammed the vehicle into the bus carrying 44 personnel. The bus was part of a 70 vehicle convoy carrying about 2,500 troops. According to the AFP, Jaish-e-Mohammad, a Pakistan based Islamist terrorist group, have admitted to local media that they were responsible for this attack. A video has also appeared online of an 18 year old male claiming to be the attacker stating “By the time this video reaches you… I will be in heaven…don’t think that because you have killed some of our commanders that we are finished. We will become your nightmare” The authenticity of this video has not been verified, but the attacker did state he had joined Jaish-e-Mohammad a year ago.
Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi has condemned the attack, sending out a tweet which states “The sacrifices of our brave security shall not go in vain. The entire nation stands shoulder to shoulder with the families of the brave martyrs”. Kenneth Juster, the U.S. ambassador to India, also tweeted his condolences, “The United States stands alongside India in confronting terror and defeating it.” However, many Indian Politicians had more vindictive messages, like Finance Minister Arun Jaitley, who wrote that those who are responsible will be given an “unforgettable lesson for their heinous act.” There has also been criticism directed towards the Pakistani government itself, such as comments from Home Minister Rajnath Singh, who reiterated that the Jaish-e-Mohammad is “Pakistan-based and Pakistan-backed.” Similar sentiment was also echoed by India’s Foreign Minister Jawaharlal Nehru, who states that Jaish-e-Mohammad was given full freedom by the Pakistan government to “carry out attacks in India and elsewhere with impunity.” However, the Pakistani government’s spokesman said on Twitter that they dismiss these claims, which imply their direct involvement in the attack, “without investigations.”
The finger pointing has led to increased tension between the two nuclear-armed states, which have been competing for the Kashmir region since 1989, with the Indian government feeling compelled to launch air strikes across the border to Pakistan-held Kashmir. In a couple of months Prime Minister Modi will be seeking re-election, and some analysts believe he feels pressured to use strong-arm tactics in retaliation so as not to appear weak. Prime Minister Modi addressed this incident at a press release this Friday, promising a “strong response” to the attack. However, in doing so, he will alienate the Kashmir population. The people of Kashmir have been experiencing violence in their region since the 1947; further military action will be devastating and is unwanted by the people. In fact, 2018 was the bloodiest year yet in India-held Kashmir, with 500 people killed. Politicians often have to balance the desires of the general public to the interests of the people who actually suffer the consequences of these decisions. Thankfully, the Indian government have not released any plans for military retaliation as of yet. Instead, India has chosen to use a more strategic course of action, which does not involve direct conflict. India’s finance minister Arun Jaitley told reporters that the government wants to ensure Pakistan’s isolation from the international community in order to “punish” them. The first step for India will be to remove Pakistan’s ‘Most Favored Nation’, status which had been granted to them in 1996. This means there will be tougher trade regulations on Pakistani goods being imported into India. Economic pressure can be an effective non-violent method to address this attack. However, it’s important to question whether India’s blame is wrongfully placed. Although the attacks were carried out by Jaish-e-Mohammad, a terrorist group which emerged from Pakistan, the Pakistani government denies all involvement in the attack. Therefore, India’s direct blame on Pakistan rather than the terrorist group is creating unnecessary animosity between the two sides. The two countries have already see each other as enemies so this action will further alienate Pakistan and drive them away from the negotiating table.
The tension between the two side goes as far back as 1947 when Pakistan – the predominantly Muslim nation – gained independence from India – the predominately Hindu nation. Kashmir, however, remained a contested geographical location as a large part of the area remained under Indian control despite 60% of the population being Muslim. In 2003 fighting did subside as a ceasefire was formed along the border between India and Pakistan held Kashmir. However, fighting picked up again when a new Indian government led by Prime Minister Modi came into power in 2014. According to BBC News, they promised a tougher stance on Pakistan and showed no interest in holding peace talks. This stance on the conflict held by Prime Minister Modi has increased hostility leading to the events that have happened this week. It feels like Kashmir has gone back to square one, far from the agreed cession of fighting established earlier in this century. Unfortunately with this current government the hope of establishing a new peace agreement in the region is low.
However, there is hope that this devastating event can act as a reminder of the horrible effects of conflict for both sides. For the Indian government, the death of its citizens is a reminder of the human impact of fighting, while for Pakistan it acts as a push for further efforts to eradicate their homegrown terrorist groups. It is only by both sides making efforts to cooperate that peace can be achieved in the region.