17 soldiers, 4 suspected militants killed; Modi vows to punish those responsible; Rajnath cancels trips to Russia, US
Srinagar/ New Delhi—Heavily-armed suspected militants killed 17 Indian soldiers in a pre-dawn raid Sunday on an army base in India-held Kashmir (IHK), the worst such attack for years in the disputed Himalayan region.
The ‘militants’ first attacked a frontline base close to the Line of Control (LoC) before moving onto the brigade headquarters at Uri, army spokesman Colonel S.D. Goswami said.
They were armed with grenades and automatic rifles, an army official said on condition of anonymity.
Four suspected militants were also killed during the gunbattle with security forces that saw tents and other temporary shelters for the soldiers catch fire, the army said in a statement. The encounter resulted in “heavy casualties”, the statement said.
On Sunday residents of Uri town saw smoke billowing from the nearby army base after dawn and heard continuous rounds of heavy gunfire, while army helicopters circled overhead.
Soldiers are now searching the base, 100 kilometres west of the region’s main city of Srinagar, for any more suspected militants, the statement said.
Several injured soldiers have been airlifted to a military hospital in Srinagar, according to an army officer.
Large numbers of soldiers are stationed at Uri after finishing their tour of duty of the disputed region. Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi vowed to punish those responsible for the “despicable” and “cowardly” attack.
“We strongly condemn the cowardly terror attack in Uri. I assure the nation that those behind this despicable attack will not go unpunished,” Modi said in a tweet following the raid
Indian Home Minister Rajnath Singh was holding a high-level security meeting in New Delhi, according to reports, after earlier saying he was cancelling his planned trips to Russia and the United States.
Indian Home Minister Rajnath Singh termed Pakistan a ‘terrorist state’ in an anti-Pakistan rant on Sunday. “Pakistan is a terrorist state and should be identified and isolated as such,” Rajnath tweeted.
“I am deeply disappointed with Pakistan’s continued and direct support to terrorism and terrorist groups,” the Indian home minister said.
Rajnath’s vitriol comes as Pakistan and India gear up for a showdown at the United Nations General Assembly (UNGA) starting Monday.
Pakistan is preparing to “forcefully” highlight the situation in IHK at the UNGA, whereas India intends to counter Pakistan’s stance by raising the Balochistan issue, arguing that the Baloch are also seeking independence from Pakistan and deserve international support.
India is also backing Baloch activists to hold a demonstration outside the UN headquarters during the prime minister’s speech.
Both Pakistan and India are trying to persuade the US to support their positions. The US, however, appears to have decided not to take sides.
Pakistan has had to contend with incendiary remarks by Indian lawmakers with increasing frequency as both countries lock horns over the Kashmir issue.
In a speech on India’s Independence Day, Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi in his address to the nation said, in a broadside against Pakistan, that the people of Balochistan, Gilgit Baltistan and Azad Jammu and Kashmir had thanked him.
Adviser to Prime Minister on Foreign Affairs Sartaj Aziz reacted to Modi’s speech, saying the Indian PM was trying to divert global attention from the tragedy in India-held Kashmir, adding that Modi’s comments only proved Pakistan’s contention that India, through the Research and Analysis Wing (RAW), had been fomenting terrorism in Balochistan.
A day after Foreign Secretary Aizaz Chaudhry invited his Indian counterpart S Jaishankar for dialogue on the Kashmir dispute in August, Indian Defence Minister Manohar Parrikar told a rally in IHK that “going to Pakistan is the same as going to hell”.
Days after Chaudhry’s invitation, India formally rejected Pakistan’s proposal to hold exclusive talks on the issue of Kashmir and said it will only discuss the issue of terrorism alleged infiltration of militants with Pakistan.
The FO on Saturday said that Pakistan’s Permanent Representative to the United Nations in Geneva Ambassador Tehmina Janjua termed India’s attempts to deny its illegal occupation of Jammu and Kashmir is a “travesty of history”.
“The sudden Indian focus on Balochistan is consistent with their playbook of seeking to distract attention from their repression in India-occupied Kashmir,” the FO quoted Janjua as saying.
Pakistan and India have been engaged in a back-and-forth over Kashmir since the killing of Hizbul Mujahideen commander Burhan Wani in IHK sparked violent protests against Indian rule despite the imposition of multiple curfews in the region, leaving at least 87 civilians dead and thousands others injured.
The unrest has lasted for more than two months as protesting residents clash almost daily with security forces in the worst such violence since 2010.
The Foreign Office earlier this month urged the Indian government to listen to the international community and end bloodshed in IHK and asked the United Nations to send a fact-finding mission to IHK in order to investigate human right abuses.
Pakistan maintains the issue can only be resolved through dialogue and implementation of UN resolutions on Kashmir.
IHk is in the grip of deadly unrest that has lasted for more than two months. Protesting residents are clashing almost daily with security forces in the worst such violence since 2010.
At least 87 civilians have been killed and thousands injured in the protests against Indian rule, sparked by the killing of a popular Hizbul Mujahideen leader Burhan Wani in a gunbattle with soldiers on July 8.
The Indian government has been coming under growing pressure over the level of casualties during the protests and over the security forces’ use of shotguns loaded with pellets which can blind demonstrators.
Thousands of angry demonstrators defied a curfew on Saturday in IHK toattend the funeral of a schoolboy whose body was found riddled with pellets, sparking fresh clashes with security forces.
Soldiers have been deployed in Kashmir for decades and currently number around 500,000. Tens of thousands of people, mostly civilians, have died in the fighting.—AFP