Militants attacked an army base in India’s Kashmir region early on Sunday, killing 17 soldiers.It was the deadliest assault on an Indian military installation in more than 15 years.
The attack — on a base at Uri near the line of control that divides Kashmir between India and Pakistan — comes amid tensions between the neighbours over the massive wave anti India Protests that have rocked Kashmir this summer.
86 Kashmiris have been killed and hundreds more severely injured, mostly in clashes with Indian security forces firing pellet guns at close range into the crowds.
Analysts predicted that Sunday’s attack on the army base — by four heavily armed militants who were slain in a fierce gun-battle — would ratchet up hostilities between India and Pakistan, which have fought four wars over Kashmir, a Muslim-majority region both countries claim as their own.
On taking power two years ago, Prime Minister Narendra Modi made high-profile efforts to improve relations with Pakistan, including with surprise Christmas Day day personal visit to his Pakistani counterpart, Nawaz Sharif, last year try to reset ties.
But the sense of optimism faded quickly after Pakistan-based Islamists attacked an air force base at Pathankot, killing 12 people, in an attempt to scupper the nascent efforts at better relations.
On Sunday, Mr Modi tweeted: “We strongly condemn the cowardly terror attack in Uri. I assure the nation that those behind this despicable attack will not go unpunished.”
In a second tweet, he added: “We salute all those martyred in Uri. Their service to the nation will always be remembered. My thoughts are with the bereaved families.”
As alienated Kashmiri youth have taken to the streets en masse over the past two months, Mr Modi has hinted that he was willing to contemplate tougher reaction to Pakistan.
“My assessment of the political mood and the political pressure on the government is such that some sort of tough message — more than a strong statement — will called for,” said Ashok Malik, a fellow at the Observer Research Foundation, a New Delhi think-tank. “The mood in India is a hard mood.”
In a statement, the Indian army said the assault by the four heavily-armed militants came early in the morning, as the administrative base was crowded with soldiers preparing to rotate out of the region after a tour of duty.
The statement said many of the soldiers were staying in tents, which caught fire, resulting in heavy casualties. Another 20 soldiers also injured in the attack were said to be in critical condition.
Rajnath Singh, India’s home minister, cancelled a planned trip to Russia and the United States that was to have begun on Sunday and was holding an emergency meeting with top officials to discuss the attack and responses.
India has been stepping up its crackdown on Kashmiris and last week arrested a high-profile Kashmiri human rights activist, Khurram Pervez, who has long called for justice for human abuses perpetrated by Indian security forces.
An estimated 44,000 people — including militants, security personnel and civilians — have been killed in Kashmir since 1989, after the eruption of a militant separatist insurgency, whose fighters were trained and armed by Pakistan.