India unites in mourning for CRPF jawans killed in Pulwama terror attack
Prime Minister Narendra Modi put Pakistan on notice on Friday to brace for a strong response to the terrorist strike that left at least 40 Central Reserve Police Force (CRPF) troopers dead in Kashmir — an attack that escalated tensions between the two neighbours and united India in grief and anger.
Showing unity of purpose, Congress president Rahul Gandhi offered his party’s support to Modi’s National Democratic Alliance (NDA) government and security forces in the measures they take in the aftermath of Thursday’s attack on the Jammu-Srinagar highway by a suicide car bomber who belonged to the Pakistan-backed Jaish-e-Mohammad (JeM) terror group.
“If our neighbour, which has been isolated in the world, thinks that by carrying out such attacks, hatching such conspiracies, it would be successful in bringing instability in India, it is a big mistake on its part,” Modi said after a meeting of the Cabinet Committee on Security (CCS).
Also watch: PM Modi, Rahul Gandhi pay tribute to killed CRPF jawans
“A strong reply will be given to this attack,” Modi’s said after flagging off India’s fastest train, Vande Bharat Express, on its maiden journey from New Delhi to Varanasi in a ceremony in which two minutes of silence was observed in honour of the CRPF troopers.
On Thursday, a suicide bomber rammed a car laden with explosives into a CRPF truck, part of a convoy of 78 vehicles, in the Avantipora area of Pulwama district. Initial reports said 44 men were feared to have been killed. On Thursday, the CRPF confirmed 40 deaths, making it the deadliest attack in Jammu and Kashmir’s three-decade-long insurgency.
“The aim of terrorism is to divide the country, no one can divide this country and the entire Opposition stands united with the security forces and the government,” Gandhi said at a press conference in Delhi.
“This is a time of mourning and sadness. We are fully supporting the Government of India and the forces. There is going to be no other discussion by the Congress party over the next couple of days.”
Home minister Rajnath Singh flew to Srinagar to take stock of the security situation in J&K, and national security adviser Ajit Doval met security forces and agencies to discuss the aftermath of the Pulwama attack.
Investigators from New Delhi too reached Pulwama on Friday, recovering vital new clues that now suggest a van or a small car may have been used in the bombing and the explosive may have been a mixture of RDX and Supergel-90. The latter is a blasting agent permitted for civil use such as in quarrying.
Opposition parties, cutting across political lines, and overseas governments condemned the terrorist attack for which JeM, a United Nations-designated terrorist group founded by Masood Azhar, claimed responsibility. Jaish said the suicide bomber was a 22-year-old school dropout from Gundibagh village of Pulwama in south Kashmir, a hotbed of insurgency.
Anti-Pakistan protests took place in several parts of he country. In Jammu, the winter capital of Jammu and Kashmir, a curfew was imposed as a precautionary measure following massive protests and stray incidents of violence over the Pulwama attack.
The army has been requested to help the administration in maintaining law and order and conduct flag marches, officials said.
“There is much anger among people due to this terror attack. People’s blood is boiling. I understand this. The nation has some expectations at this moment... Security forces have been given free hand and we have full faith in the bravery of our soldiers,” PM Modi said.
He didn’t say what shape the retaliation could take. In response to a September 18, 2016, terrorist attack on an Indian Army brigade headquarters in Uri, near the Line of Control, that left 19 troops dead, Indian soldiers carried out retaliatory surgical strikes on terrorist training camps across the de facto border just days later.
On Friday, foreign secretary Vijay Gokhale summoned Pakistan high commissioner Sohail Mahmood to the external affairs ministry and handed him a demarche (diplomatic note) protesting against Thursday’s suicide bombing and demanding that Islamabad take “immediate and verifiable action” against JeM.
Within hours of Thursday’s attack, New Delhi issued a strong statement that accused Pakistan of giving “full freedom” to the terror group to operate and expand its terror infrastructure to carry out attacks in India and elsewhere.
Islamabad responded with a two-line statement that said it had “always condemned heightened acts of violence” in Kashmir. Pakistan also said it will “strongly reject any insinuation by elements in the Indian government and media circles that seek to link the attack to the State of Pakistan without investigations.”
Foreign secretary Gokhale rejected the statement
After the CCS meeting, the government said it will take all possible diplomatic steps to ensure the “complete isolation” of Pakistan on the international stage. Finance minister Arun Jaitley, who resumed charge of his ministry on Friday after recuperating from treatment for an ailment, told reporters that as the first step, India was stripping Pakistan of the most favoured nation (MFN) status, which offered that country certain trade privileges.
“The ministry of external affairs will initiate all possible steps, and I am here referring to all possible diplomatic steps, which have to be taken to ensure the complete isolation from the international community of Pakistan,” he said.
Ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) general secretary Ram Madhav said withdrawal of MFN status was an important “tactical step” and more diplomatic initiatives would ensue. To be sure, given that the size of bilateral trade, impeded by the often fractious relationship between the neighbours, is just around $2 billion, taking away Pakistan’s MFN status wouldn’t hurt Islamabad too much.
India also reiterated its appeal to all members of the international community to support the proposal to list 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.
China, while joining other nations in condemning the Pulwama terror attack, again declined to back India’s appeal for Azhar to be designated a global terrorist by the UN.
Modi indicated that more action was to come in remarks directed at Pakistan-based terrorist groups.
The PM said: “I want to tell the terror groups that you have committed a grave crime. The perpetrators of terror will pay a heavy price. I assure the nation that we will punish the perpetrators of terror.”
The terror strike caused a lull in the campaign for the upcoming Lok Sabha polls as political parties put electioneering on hold in mourning for the CRPF troopers.
An Indian Air Force C-17 was due to fly to Srinagar from Hindon to bring the mortal remains of CRPF personnel killed in the Pulwama attack to New Delhi.
CRPF mourned its dead. “We will not forget, We will not forgive. We salute our martyrs of Pulwama attack and stand with the families of our martyr brothers. This heinous attack will be avenged,” the force, which has ordered a court of inquiry into the attack, wrote in a tweet.