The Week – Narinder Nanu/AFP/Getty Images
Pakistan has warned it could retaliate with force if India takes military action, after a deadly terrorist attack brought tensions between the two countries to boiling point.
Pakistan-based militant group Jaish-e-Mohammad has claimed responsibility for Thursday’s suicide-bombing in Indian-administered Kashmir, which claimed the lives of more than 40 members of India’s security forces and was the deadliest militant attack in the disputed region in decades.
The attack enflamed tensions between the two nuclear powers, who have been involved in a bitter border stand-off for decades and have fought two wars and numerous skirmishes since they gained independence more than seventy years ago.
Separatist violence in Kashmir has killed more than 47,000 people since 1989, although “some human rights groups and nongovernmental organisations put the death toll at twice that amount”, reports CNN.
As ever, the response from the countries’ leaders has been aimed as much at their own respective domestic audiences as each other.
Speaking about the attack for the first time, Pakistan Prime Minister Imran Khan offered to assist with Indian investigations and said the conflict will only be solved through dialogue, not war.
“Any adventurism on the part of India to threaten the sovereignty of Pakistan will be met with assured retaliation,” Khan warned. “I hope better sense will prevail.”
Khan took office last year saying he wanted to improve relations with India “but while his confident and measured speech will go down well domestically, uncomfortable questions remain about the state’s relationship with Kashmir-focused militant groups like Jaish-e-Mohammad”, says BBC Pakistan correspondent, Secunder Kermani.
India has said there was “incontrovertible evidence” that Pakistan had a “direct hand” in the attack, a claim which drew a stinging rebuke from Khan. It also provoked Pakistan’s foreign minister, Shah Mahmood Qureshi, to appeal to the UN secretary general to help ease tensions with India that Reuters reports have “escalated sharply”.
Across the border, Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi, who is preparing for an election later this year, faces a tough decision about how to respond.
Earlier this week, India promised it would take commercial and diplomatic steps to “isolate” Pakistan internationally, however “Delhi has also left the door open for possible military action”, says CNN, with Modi vowing to give the military free reign.
The question now is whether he will seek to secure a short-term boost in the polls by launching a potentially dangerous military action against his neighbour.
One thing that could stop an attack is the heavy snow in the region this time of year that “could make that kind of limited ground response impossible,” says the BBC, “but there are fears that going further – with air strikes, for example – could lead to Pakistani retaliation and a significant escalation.”