India says Pakistan had ‘direct hand’ in deadly convoy strike

India said there was “incontrovertible evidence” that Pakistan had a “direct hand” in a bomb attack on a convoy that killed at least 40 people in Indian-administered Kashmir.

After a Cabinet Committee on Security meeting on Friday, Finance Minister Arun Jaitley said in a statement that India would initiate “all possible diplomatic steps” to “ensure the complete isolation from the international community of Pakistan, of which incontrovertible evidence is available of having a direct hand in this gruesome terrorist incident.”

Jaitley added that India would downgrade diplomatic relations by withdrawing its “most favored nation status” to Pakistan — a largely symbolic title.

Thursday’s attack on a convoy of Indian soldiers killed 40 and wounded five, said M. Dhinakaran, deputy inspector general of the Central Reserve Police Force. It was deadliest attack on security forces since the beginning of the insurgency in the late 1980s.

The Indian government has blamed Pakistan-based terrorist organization Jaish-e-Mohammed for the attack.

“We demand that Pakistan stop supporting terrorists and terror groups operating from their territory and dismantle the infrastructure operated by terrorist outfits to launch attacks in other countries,” India’s Foreign Ministry said in a statement.

On Friday, Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi issued a warning to terrorist groups, saying that the “the blood of the people is boiling.”

“I want to tell the terrorist organizations and their supporters that have made a huge mistake. They will have to pay a very heavy cost for this. I give assurance to the nation that the forces behind the attack, the culprits behind this attack — they will definitely be punished for their actions,” he said at an event in New Delhi.

Pakistan responds

Pakistan’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs released a statement hours after the attack, describing it as “a matter of grave concern.”

“We have always condemned acts of violence anywhere in the world,” the statement said. It continued: “We strongly reject any insinuation by elements in the Indian media and government that seek to link the attack to Pakistan without investigations.”

Jaish-e-Mohammed, which translates to the Army of the Prophet Mohammed, is a Pakistan-based group that operates on both sides of the border of the disputed state and seeks to unite the Indian-controlled area of Kashmir with Pakistan.

The group was listed as a terrorist organization by the US State Department in 2001, but the effort to include its leader, Masood Azhar, as an “internationally designated terrorist” at the United Nations was vetoed by China in 2017.

Azhar founded Jaish-e-Mohammed with support from Osama Bin Laden, the Taliban and several other extremist organizations, according to the UN. The group has been implicated in multiple attacks in India, including the 2001 attack on the Indian Parliament in New Delhi that killed nine people, and on the Jammu and Kashmir legislative assembly building that killed at least 31 people.

Thursday’s attack took place in the Pulwama district — about 15 miles (25 kilometers) from Kashmir’s capital, Srinagar.

The convoy of 78 vehicles, which was transporting 2,550 paramilitary soldiers, was on the national highway when it was struck by the blast, said Muneer Khan, director general of police.

“One vehicle which was part of the convoy carrying the CRPF personnel bore the brunt of the blast resulting in multiple casualties,” a police statement said.

Indian PM condemns ‘dastardly attack’

India’s Prime Minister Narendra Modi tweeted support for soldiers in the state.

“Attack on CRPF personnel in Pulwama is despicable. I strongly condemn this dastardly attack. The sacrifices of our brave security personnel shall not go in vain. The entire nation stands shoulder to shoulder with the families of the brave martyrs. May the injured recover quickly,” he wrote.

On Friday, Modi reiterated his comments, warning Pakistan that India will not be divided.

“If they (Pakistan) think that the kinds of things they are doing, the conspiracies that they are concocting — that they will be successful in creating instability in India, then they should abandon that dream. They will never be able to do it.”

Modi has taken a stronger stand toward terrorism in the state since he came to power almost five years ago. In 2018, 253 terrorists were killed by Indian security forces — more than double the number of terrorists killed in 2015, according to the Ministry of Home Affairs.

Kashmir has had a tumultuous history since the India-Pakistan partition resulted in a predominantly Hindu India and a Muslim Pakistan.

After India gained independence in 1947, Kashmir has been bitterly contested by both nations, resulting in three wars and numerous other skirmishes.

The latest attack comes more than two years after armed militants entered an army base in the garrison town of Uri, about 63 miles (102 kilometers) from Srinagar — killing at least 18.

Separatist violence in the region has killed more than 47,000 people since 1989, although this toll doesn’t include people who have disappeared due to the conflict. Some human rights groups and nongovernmental organizations put the death toll at twice that amount.