Lethpora in south Kashmir's Pulwama district
Indian soldiers examine the debris after an explosion in Lethpora in south Kashmir's Pulwama district on Thursday, February 14, 2019. Image Credit: REUTERS

At least 40 Indian paramilitary soldiers have been killed in a suicide attack on a vehicle convoy in the Kashmir valley. Initial reports suggest that a car filled with explosives rammed a bus carrying the officers to Srinagar, the state’s summer capital. The blast took place on the heavily guarded Srinagar-Jammu highway about 20km from the capital. 

This is one of the biggest attacks of its kind by insurgents in Kashmir in recent years. Suicide attacks are all the more rare in the valley. In a telephonic call to a local news agency in Srinagar, Jaish-e-Mohammed (JeM), a proscribed militant outfit, has taken responsibility for the bombing. An alleged suicide bomber, Adil Ahmad, apparently rammed the explosive-laden car into the security vehicle. A purported pre-recorded video of the bomber (on social media) further raises the stakes.

The attack has taken place less than 10 days after Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s much hyped visit to the region. In a high-voltage speech in Srinagar, the prime minister noted that the government will give befitting response to every terrorist. “We will break the backbone of terror in the state,” Modi thundered on February 3. Thursday’s bombing could be seen as a blowback by the insurgents, who have been facing a sustained pressure by security forces. Over 230 insurgents were killed in J & K last year, the highest number in eight years.

Indian paramilitary soldiers carry the remains
Indian paramilitary soldiers carry the remains of colleagues at the site of an explosion in Pampore, Indian-controlled Kashmir, Thursday, February 14, 2019. Image Credit: AP

For India’s security establishment, the suicide attack is a massive breach of security, one that has send shock waves across the grid. The national highway on which the CRPF bus came under attack is typically sanitised before any major security movement. Since the CRPF bus, packed with security personnel, faced the full brunt of the blast, there is apprehension that the death toll may go up further as more soldiers are reportedly grievously injured.

It is a significant security development and might have some political ramifications in the days ahead. Coming just on the eve of India’s general elections (which are likely to take place in the next few months), it remains to be seen how Modi’s government will respond to these attack. The 2016 Uri attack that resulted in the deaths of 19 soldiers, prompted India to cross the border with Pakistan and launch ‘surgical strikes’ on insurgent camps.

Already the opposition parties in India have upped the ante. “This is the 18th big terror attack in the last five years under this Modi government. When will the Prime Minister reply?” Congress’ Randeep Surjewala commented soon after the attack. Former J & K chief minister, Omar Abdullah, expressed outrage, noting that Thursday’s attack was reminiscent of the ‘dark days of militancy of 2004-2005 Kashmir’.

To take stock of the situation, India’s home minister Rajnath Singh is visiting the valley on Friday. Following the attack, PDP leader and former chief minister, Mehbooba Mufti, reiterated that all political parties must come together and reach a solution to end bloodshed. As condemnations flow thick and fast, there is perhaps a need to focus on the abdication of responsibility by leaders in the region to tackle the Kashmir issue politically before it is too late to fix.