The United States has told India it supports its right to defend itself against cross-border attacks, the government in New Delhi said on Saturday as it considers retaliation against a car bombing in disputed Kashmir claimed by Pakistan-based militants.
Tensions between nuclear-armed India and Pakistan have risen again after India, incensed by the killing of 44 paramilitary police in the deadliest attack in Kashmir in decades, demanded that Pakistan act against the Jaish-e-Mohammad (JeM) militant group behind the bombing.
It has begun a diplomatic and economic offensive against its neighbour, withdrawing Most Favoured Nation trade privilege earlier in the week. On Saturday, Finance Minister Arun Jaitley said customs duties on all imports from Pakistan would be raised to 200 percent.
The impact is likely to be limited, experts say, with bilateral trade between the two countries barely reaching $2 billion.
But Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s government, facing a general election by May, is under pressure from hardline groups for more decisive action against Pakistan.
U.S. National Security Adviser John Bolton spoke to his Indian counterpart Ajit Doval on Friday night, promising to help bring those behind the attack to justice, the Indian foreign ministry said in a readout of the phone call.
“The two NSAs vowed to work together to ensure that Pakistan cease to be a safe haven for JeM and terrorist groups that target India, the U.S. and others in the region,” the foreign ministry said.
“They resolved to hold Pakistan to account for its obligations under U.N. resolutions,” it added.
Pakistan condemned Thursday’s attack, in which the bomber slammed into a military convoy, and denied any complicity.
The foreign ministry accused India of hacking into its website, a move it said blocked access from many parts of the world.
“We knew that the Indians will do such a cheap thing,” spokesman Mohammad Faisal said.
There was no immediate response from India on the allegation.
India has for years accused Muslim Pakistan of backing separatist militants in divided Kashmir, which the neighbours both claim in full but rule in part.
Pakistan denies that, saying it only offers political and diplomatic support to the Kashmiri people in their struggle for self-determination.
Modi said on Saturday he had given a free hand to the military to respond to acts of violence.
“The country understands the anger simmering within the soldiers,” he said at a political rally in western Maharashtra state.
ANGER AS BODIES ARRIVE
As the bodies of the policemen who died in the car bomb reached their homes in small towns across India, crowds waving the Indian flag gathered in the streets to honour them and demand revenge.
Others held flowers as they walked behind the coffins in the towns of Jabalpur, Varanasi and Moga, television showed.
Tens of thousands of troops, paramilitary police and state police are deployed across scenic Kashmir to quell the nearly 30-year revolt there, India’s only Muslim-majority region.
In Jammu, the winter capital of Jammu and Kashmir, authorities imposed a curfew for a second day after mobs attacked vehicles and pelted stones at the homes of Kashmiris, saying they sympathised with the militants.
Sanjeev Verma, the divisional commissioner of Jammu, said that the curfew will remain until further orders to maintain law and order. An army column staged a flag march.
Kashmiris living in other cities of India also faced a backlash. Aqib Ahmad, a student in Dehradun, said his landlord asked him to vacate the house.
The landlord told him he feared people would attack his property for renting it out to a Kashmiri.