India has announced reprisals against Pakistan for a suicide bombing that killed at least 40 paramilitaries in the disputed region of Kashmir.
India’s finance minister, Arun Jaitley, has placed a 200% tariff on Pakistani imports and the home ministry announced on Sunday it was withdrawing the security details of a several Kashmiri separatist leaders.
A car laden with explosives driven by a member of the Pakistan-based militant group, Jaish-e-Mohammed, is believed to have been responsible for the deadliest attack in the history of Kashmir’s 30-year insurgency on Thursday.
Ceremonies have been held in the capital, Delhi, and across the country to farewell the dead as public anger continues to boil. “The fire that is raging in your hearts, is in my heart too,” the prime minister, Narendra Modi, told an audience in Bihar state on Sunday.
India’s home ministry has also directed police to protect Kashmiris studying or working in states across India following reports of revenge attacks including attempts to storm a female students’ hostel in the northern city of Dehradun.
In Jammu, the region adjacent to Kashmir, several thousand people have been stranded for the past four days and been placed in a relief camp. A curfew has been established in the area after arson attacks on Kashmiri homes. Mohammad Akram, a volunteer at a relief camp in Jammu, said more than 3,000 Kashmiri Muslims were being provided shelter and food.
“More people who were stranded at hotels are coming and some are leaving for Kashmir during the night,” he told the Guardian.
At a cricket club in Mumbai, a portrait of Pakistan’s prime minister Imran Khan – one of several pictures of cricketers hanging in the premises – was covered “as a mark of protest”, the club president told India’s Press Trust International.
Thursday’s bombing has raised tensions between the nuclear-armed neighbours to their highest point since the September 2016 attack by Jaish-e-Mohammed on an army camp in Uri, a town near Kashmir’s ceasefire border.
That incident killed 19 people and led India to announce it had sent army teams into Pakistani-held territory to destroy militant camps, an operation labelled the “surgical strikes” and celebrated in a blockbuster film released this year.
Modi has promised to avenge the suicide attack and says his security forces have been given full freedom to respond. But despite the strong rhetoric, India’s options are limited, said Paul Staniland, an associate professor in political science at the University of Chicago.
Sending troops deep into Pakistani-held territory would risk escalating a conflict where nuclear weapons have been in play on both sides since 1998, as well exposing Indian soldiers to capture or warplanes to being shot down.
More likely, he said, was a similar small-scale attack along the lines of the 2016 surgical strikes, but this time accompanied something like a precision-guided munition attack.
“It moves slightly beyond the response to Uri and lets Modi say he’s not just doing the exact same thing again, but doesn’t open the door to hard-to-predict escalation dynamics,” Staniland said.
But such an attack would be unlikely dissuade Pakistan from continuing to allow armed groups to operate on its territory, he added. “India might need to really move up the escalation ladder to impose costs, but that in turn creates bigger risks that Indian governments thus far have decided were ultimately not worth it.”