Attack on Kashmir Base Escalates Tensions Between India, Pakistan

Rohit Wadhwaney and Akash Vashishtha
New Delhi
2016-09-21
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160921-IN-Kashmir-620.jpg Indian activists shout anti-Pakistan slogans and hold a picture of Pakistani Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif during a protest in Jammu, Sept. 21, 2016.
AFP

India’s government has faced a growing chorus of calls for military action against Pakistan, following a militant raid on an army base in Indian Kashmir that killed 18 soldiers.

On Wednesday, Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi gave clear instructions to Indian troops to “go hard on the insurgency in Jammu and Kashmir,” government sources told BenarNews.

No group has claimed responsibility for Sunday’s pre-dawn attack in Uri, located near the Line of Control (LoC) that divides Kashmir between India and Pakistan, but New Delhi has held Pakistan-based militant outfit Jaish-e-Muhammad (JeM) responsible.

Since then anti-Pakistan sentiment has echoed across India, which has borne the brunt of at least five major assaults over the past decade, including the 2008 Mumbai terror attack. Indian authorities have attributed all the attacks to radical groups operating from the other side of the border.

“There is clearly a shift in the new policy toward Pakistan, which is not to give any further rope to it and to respond to cross-border incidents militarily as well as diplomatically,” D.C. Pathak, a former chief of India’s Intelligence Bureau, told BenarNews.

He noted that a military response did not mean war.

“The government would certainly be examining and considering the implications of an armed response,” Pathak said.

Addressing the U.N. General Assembly in New York, Pakistani Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif said Wednesday that his country had “gone the extra mile” to eliminate tensions in Jammu and Kashmir.

For decades, tensions between nuclear-armed rivals Pakistan and India have simmered around the Himalayan region of Kashmir, over which both countries have territorial claims and have fought wars over it. More than 70,000 people have died since a separatist insurgency broke out there in the late 1980s.

Sharif praised Kashmiris who have declared that they want freedom from India, and he demanded a U.N. inquiry into alleged extrajudicial killings by Indian forces.

“Indian brutalities are well documented,” Sharif said, adding he would share details of regional violence with the U.N.

Soldier’s family threatens hunger strike

Calling on the Indian government to strike back against those responsible for the attack in Uri, the family of Rakesh Singh, one of 18 Indian soldiers killed, threatened Wednesday to go on an indefinite hunger strike if such action was not taken.

“Every now and then, they [Pakistani intruders] attack and kill our soldiers. And all we do is hold talks with Pakistan. Enough is enough. If the government does not respond with all its military might this time, our family will begin an indefinite hunger strike,” Harangi Singh, the slain soldier’s brother, told BenarNews from his village in northeast India’s Bihar state.

A poll published by the Times of India on Monday showed that 66.6 percent of about 110,000 respondents backed a full-scale military response to the Uri attack. In a similar poll by news portal Rediff.com, about 83 percent of nearly 10,000 respondents believed a military option against Pakistan was the best way to respond.

For its part, Islamabad rejected New Delhi’s allegations about Pakistani involvement in the Uri attack, calling them “baseless and irresponsible.”

“It is a blatant attempt by New Delhi to divert attention from the fast deteriorating humanitarian and rights situation in Kashmir,” Sharif adviser Sartaj Aziz said in a statement.

Aziz was referring to more than two months of civilian unrest in Indian-administered Kashmir, where at least 80 people have lost their lives in clashes between pro-freedom protesters and security forces, since a top separatist leader was killed in early July.

Retired general: declare Uri act of war

Military officials on both sides have also ratcheted up the rhetoric.

A day after Indian Director General of Military Operations Lt. Gen. Ranbir Singh said that India’s armed forces “reserve to right to respond [to the Uri attack] at the time and place of our choosing,” Pakistani army chief Gen. Raheel Sharif said his country’s military was “fully prepared to respond to an entire spectrum of direct and indirect threats.”

According to a security analyst, retired Indian army Maj. Gen. Satbir Singh, New Delhi should “declare the Uri attack as an act of war.”

“If we don’t respond, Pakistan will continue to inflict us with slaughter, and it would show that we are weak and timid,” Singh told BenarNews.

In his view, Pakistan would not dare to use its nuclear weapons.

“If it plays the nuclear card, India will ensure Pakistan is wiped off the map, thus ensuring that no terrorism is left on its soil.”

In his speech at the U.N., Prime Minister Sharif said he was concerned about India but was open to discussing all measures of restraint between the two countries.

“Pakistan cannot ignore our neighbor’s arms buildup,” he said, adding that he was willing to participate in bilateral talks on a nuclear test ban.

‘No good military option’

Meanwhile, Bruce Riedel, a U.S.-based South Asia security analyst, told the Times of India that New Delhi had “no good military option” to stop Pakistani-sponsored cross-border violence.

“Any military response risks escalation and will be condemned by the international community, including Washington. A better approach would be to seek diplomatic support labeling Pakistan a patron state sponsor of terror,” Riedel said.

But Kanwal Sibal, a former Indian foreign secretary, said India needn’t worry about the international community’s reaction over its response to Uri.

“India’s response will obviously be a limited action – a response to make clear you cannot come into our side and attack our army. The responsibility will then be on Pakistan on whether to escalate it or not,” Sibal told BenarNews.

“If there is a proportionate response, the world will understand. They may not say much but may be rather satisfied.”

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