On February 14, 2019, one of 78 vehicles carrying India’s Central Reserve Police Force (CRPF), was struck by an SUV carrying explosives, killing 40 CRPF personnel. Shortly after, Pakistan’s Jaish-e-Mohammed, a jihadist group led by Masood Azhar, was identified as the organization responsible for the attack. The attack in Pulwama, the deadliest attack against Indian forces in conflict-laden Kashmir since 1989, has immediately escalated tension between the two neighbours.
Historically, Kashmir has been a constant source of tension between India and Pakistan. Following this most recent attack, India immediately accused Pakistan of being complicit. Lieutenant General KJS Dhillon of the Indian Army referred to Jaish-e-Mohammed as “a brainchild of the Pakistan Army” and said, “the involvement of the Pakistan Army is 100 per cent and there is no doubt in it.” Indian media has also emphasized the fact that Azhar, the leader of Jaish-e-Mohammed, remains at large in Pakistan. Prime Minister Modi gave free reign to the Indian Army to deal with the aftermath of the attack and withdrew the Most Favoured Nation status that had been granted to Pakistan in 1996 just after the formation of the WTO as a gesture of good will. Reports of a backlash against Pakistani and Kashmiri individuals within India also followed the news of Pulwama attack.
Meanwhile, Pakistan’s Prime Minister Imran Khan has denied Indian allegations of complicity in the Pulwama attack. He challenged New Delhi to substantiate its allegations and offered to collaborate against Jaish-e-Mohammed, which he described as “enemies of Pakistan.” At the same time, Prime Minister Khan warned that Pakistan would “retaliate” in the event of an Indian military attack.
Yet again, the familiar tropes of Kashmiri conflict and Pakistan’s reluctance to be ‘tough’ against terrorists are playing out in the public discourse surrounding the long-time conflict between the two neighbours in the subcontinent.