Tuesday 23 April 2019

Former Indian army chief urges caution on Pakistan border after terror attack

TENSION: A protester after last week’s suicide car bombingby. Photo: AP
TENSION: A protester after last week’s suicide car bombingby. Photo: AP

Aijaz Hussain

As India considers its response to last Thursday's suicide car bombing of a paramalitary convoy in the disputed region of Kashmir that killed dozens of soldiers, a retired military commander who oversaw a much-lauded military strike against neighbouring Pakistan in 2016 has urged caution.

A local Kashmiri militant rammed an explosive-laden van into a convoy bus, killing 41 soldiers and injuring two dozen others in the worst attack against Indian government forces in Kashmir's history. India blamed the attack on Pakistan and promised a "crushing response". New Delhi accuses its arch-rival of supporting rebels in Kashmir, a charge Islamabad denies.

Pakistani Foreign Secretary Tehmina Janjua rejected India's allegations about Pakistan's involvement in the attack, yesterday saying that it was part of New Delhi's "known rhetoric and tactics" to divert global attention from human right violations. According to foreign ministry spokesman Mohammad Faisal, Janjua called for implementation of UN resolutions to solve the issue of Kashmir.

Kashmir is divided between India and Pakistan and claimed by both in its entirety. Rebels have been fighting Indian rule since 1989, demanding Kashmir be made part of Pakistan or become an independent country. Nearly 70,000 people have been killed in the uprising and the ensuing Indian military crackdown.

A pre-recorded video circulated widely on social media showed the purported attacker, Adil Ahmed Dar, in combat clothes surrounded by guns and grenades claiming responsibility for the attack and calling for more such measures to drive India out of Kashmir.

The retired Indian military commander, Lt General DS Hooda, yesterday said that while "some kind of limited strike against Pakistan is more than likely", he hopes for "rethinking and reconciliation" from all sides in the conflict.

The former general, who commanded the Indian army's northern command in charge of the frontier with Pakistan in Kashmir and counterinsurgency operations, oversaw India's "surgical strikes" in September 2016 after militants attacked a military base in a frontier town near the highly militarised Line of Control in Indian-controlled Kashmir. Nineteen Indian soldiers and three assailants were killed in that attack. India instantly blamed Pakistan for supporting the attackers, who New Delhi alleged were Pakistani nationals.

At the peak of a 2016 civilian uprising triggered by the killing of a charismatic Kashmiri rebel leader, Hooda called for all sides to take a step back from the deadly confrontation, suggesting that political initiatives be taken instead, a rare move by a top Indian army general in Kashmir.

Since 2016, soldiers from India and Pakistan have often traded fire along the frontier, blaming each other for initiating the skirmishes that have resulted in the deaths of dozens of soldiers and civilians on both sides in violation of a 2003 cease-fire accord.

Hooda said: "I just hope this all leads to some introspection, some deep thinking and engagement to do everything afresh."

There is little chance of that. Indian PM Narendra Modi's government is facing a general election by May, and is under pressure from hardline groups to take more decisive action against Pakistan.

Sunday Independent

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