After Kashmir Attack, Modi Flexes Some Muscle

Reinvigorated by polls showing 81 percent of Indians view him favorably, Prime Minister Narendra Modi is scrambling to muster a tough response after militants attacked a military base in Kashmir last week. The FT has the story:

The BJP government has already pointed the finger at Islamabad and the Pakistan-based Islamist extremist group, Jaish e-Mohammed, which New Delhi also blames for the January attack on an Indian air force base at Pathankot in which 12 security personnel were killed.

In contrast to his cautious response after the January attack — which came just a week after the Indian prime minister’s surprise Christmas Day visit to his Pakistani counterpart Nawaz Sharif — Mr Modi has responded to the latest bloodshed with tough talk, promising that “those behind this despicable attack will not go unpunished”.

The desire for action is widely felt, especially after a summer of massive anti-India street protests in Kashmir, in which 86 people, mostly civilians, have been killed. Mr Modi’s government has publicly blamed the unrest on Pakistan, though Kashmiris insist they are spontaneous outpourings of public rage.

The situation now is a far cry from earlier this year when Modi visited Pakistan and called for better ties. The optics of that trip, which was followed by an attack on Indian soldiers a week later, weren’t good for Modi. He’s clearly trying to look tougher this time: On Tuesday, Indian forces stationed on Kashmir’s border with Pakistan killed several militants. A Pakistani official speaking anonymously said he thought the victims were probably “innocent civilians.”

The geopolitics of the violence in Kashmir is widely felt across the region. Pakistan thinks that Kashmir might one day secede, and that at the very least the state’s woes are a sign of Delhi’s fundamental weakness. Many Indians agree that Kashmir’s instability is a big problem. Some Indian defense experts have even called for air strikes on targets inside Pakistan. More from the FT:

“The mood in the country now is that something must be done, but it’s the most complex security challenge in the world,” says retired naval Commodore Uday Bhaskar, director of the Society for Policy Studies, a security-focused think-tank.

What Modi does do will be critical. The question of what that is has only gotten more complicated over the past few years, especially now that China is relying on Pakistan for key parts of its One Belt, One Road initiative.

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