A nasty turn in South Asia

Indian Army soldiers stand guard on Srinagar-Baramulla highway some 20km from SrinagarPHOTO: EPA

A week after a terror attack on a border camp in divided Kashmir killed 19 Indian soldiers sleeping in tents, sub-continental tensions are rising as New Delhi retaliated with what it called a "surgical strike".

Indian commandos crossed the Line of Control - or ceasefire line - with Pakistan in the early hours of Thursday and destroyed several camps supposedly harbouring Kashmiri militants waiting to cross to the Indian side to mount attacks in the Kashmir Valley.

Pakistan says all India did was to fire massively across the line, killing two of its soldiers in the process. It also says claims that Indian commandos penetrated 2km into Pakistan-held areas, and wiped out "dozens" of militants at seven spots, are propaganda meant for India's domestic audience.

A series of attacks on Indian military installations - two successful - has dented the muscular image of Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi. The Vale of Kashmir has seen a massive spike in unrest this year that has resulted in more than 80 deaths as security forces met stone-pelting crowds with pellet guns and, occasionally, more lethal equipment.

India says the attacks, and the unrest, have the covert backing of Pakistan's intelligence agencies.

Following the latest attack, India pulled out of the eight-nation South Asian summit to be hosted by Islamabad next month.

Yesterday, Sri Lanka, under diplomatic pressure from India, joined Afghanistan, Bhutan and Bangladesh in saying that it, too, would not go.

India-Pakistan tensions, which have roiled financial markets on either side, are at their worst since the November 2008 attacks on Mumbai that killed 166 people, including a Singaporean.

Yesterday, Pakistani Premier Nawaz Sharif held a Cabinet meeting to take stock of the situation. Reports cited him describing Kashmir as the "unfinished agenda" of the 1947 Partition that led to the creation of Pakistan.

Expect an escalation in rhetoric from New Delhi and Islamabad.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on October 01, 2016, with the headline 'A nasty turn in South Asia'. Print Edition | Subscribe