New Delhi: A day after the suicide attack by a Pakistan-sponsored terrorist killed at least 40 soldiers in Pulwama, Jammu and Kashmir, the world closed ranks behind India. Even as Pakistan found itself internationally isolated, especially with a defensive China, the country’s biggest ally, also falling in line, Prime Minister Narendra Modi, in an unprecedented action, authorized the Indian security forces to fashion a response on their terms and at a timing of their choice.
Significantly, Modi made these remarks at a public rally. “The sacrifice of our jawans will not go in vain. The armed forces have been given the permission to plan, decide the place, time, and nature. Our neighbouring country is forgetting that this is a Bharat of nayi niti (new policy) and nayi reeti (new convention). The horrendous nature of the attacks will be accounted for," he told the rally in Jhansi, Uttar Pradesh, on Friday.
The terrorist who carried out the attack on Thursday belonged to the Jaish-e-Mohammed (JeM), an extremist group based out of Pakistan and headed by Maulana Masood Azhar. JeM terrorists were also responsible for the attack on Parliament in 2001 and the strike at the army camp in Uri in 2016.
Earlier, Modi had chaired a meeting of the Cabinet Committee on Security (CCS), the most powerful committee on national security.
Effectively, India, at a time when the nation is seething with anger over the attack, is signalling a paradigm shift in its approach to its relations with Pakistan, which, for the most part of the last seven decades, have been testy. The form and shape of this broader response is likely to unravel over the next few weeks and months.
Significantly, the government has also convened an all-party meeting, signalling its intent to forge a national consensus on India’s response to what has been the worst terror attack in the Kashmir Valley.
On Friday, India moved to make its case diplomatically after the CCS chaired by Modi set the tone in a morning meeting.
“As part of continuing diplomatic efforts on the matter, the foreign secretary has met around 25 heads of mission based in New Delhi today from all P-5 countries, all South Asian countries and other important partners such as Japan, Germany and the Republic of Korea," said a person familiar with the developments.
“All the heads of missions were left in no doubt about the role played by Pakistan-based and supported Jaish-e-Mohammed in the terrorist attack and our demand that Pakistan ceases forthwith all support and financing to terror groups operating from areas under their control."
Foreign secretary Vijay Gokhale also highlighted the role played by Pakistan in using terrorism as an instrument of its state policy, the person said.
The foreign ministry “will continue to take all steps to expose the complicity of Pakistan in the Pulwama terrorist attack and demand immediate and verifiable action against Jaish-e-Mohammed and its leader Masood Azhar," a second person said.
Significantly, while Pakistan Prime Minister Imran Khan maintained silence on the Pulwama terror attack, the country’s foreign ministry spokesperson condemned the strike and rejected claims linking Pakistan to it. “We strongly reject any insinuation by elements in Indian government and media circles that seek to link the attack to state of Pakistan without investigations," the spokesperson said.
While China ducked the question on allowing the United Nations to identify the JeM chief as a terrorist, its calibrated response, in the wake of a groundswell of support for India globally, signalled a rethink.
On Friday, Chinese foreign ministry spokesperson Geng Shuang condemned Pulwama terror attack. “We firmly oppose and strongly condemn all forms of terrorism," said Shuang at a briefing in Beijing. “We hope relevant regional countries will cooperate to cope with the threat of terrorism and jointly uphold regional peace and stability."
Separately, the Indian foreign secretary also met Chinese ambassador Luo Zhaohui on Friday. India is adopting a “wait and watch approach" as China has said it will play a constructive role, said another person familiar with the matter.
New Delhi, meanwhile, instructed Indian missions abroad to apprise host nations of Pakistan’s abetment of terrorism, a person familiar with the developments said.
Countries such as the US issued forthright condemnation, calling on others to deny safe haven to terrorists, in statements that supported India and shunned Pakistan.
Significantly, the spate of messages from around the world condemning Thursday’s attack, seen as the deadliest in decades, did not contain any calls for India and Pakistan to resume talks to sort out their differences, a familiar approach till recently. The condemnation also points to a recognition of the culpability of Pakistan, which is known to harbour JeM, a second person familiar with the development said.
“Pakistan’s position has been to link all acts of violence in Kashmir to what it calls the freedom movement," said a third person aware of the developments.
CCS sets the tone
As India withdrew the most favoured nation (MFN) status accorded to Pakistan, finance minister Arun Jaitley said the CCS had made an assessment and “ministry of external affairs will initiate all possible diplomatic steps that have to be taken to ensure isolation of Pakistan for having a direct hand in the incident. India in 1996 tabled a draft of a convention on international terrorism in the United Nations, but it has not been adopted yet because the definition of terrorism was not clearly spelt out".
“India will consult with all nations to implement it and engage with the international community to ensure measures against terrorism are now adopted at the earliest," he said.
Echoing Modi’s sentiment, Jaitley said the security forces “will take all possible steps to ensure that full security is maintained, and to ensure that those who have committed this act, and those who supported it, are made to pay".
Wasting no time to send out a strong message to Pakistan, India also summoned its high commissioner Sohail Mahmood to the MEA, with Gokhale conveying to him the need for Islamabad to take immediate action against the JeM. At the same time, India’s high commissioner to Pakistan, Ajay Bisaria, was called to New Delhi for consultations.
Forging political consensus
Home minister Rajnath Singh, upon his return from Srinagar, will call an all-party meeting on Saturday to take stock of the incident.
The opposition also expressed solidarity in the wake of the attacks. “Terrorism tries to break and divide the country. No power can divide our country. The entire opposition stands with the security forces and the government," Congress president Rahul Gandhi said at a press conference on Friday.
“Our foremost duty is to convey to the families of those who lost their lives or are grievously injured that we stand with them," former prime minister Manmohan Singh said at the press meet.