NEW DELHI — India accused Pakistan on Friday of orchestrating a suicide bombing that killed dozens of soldiers in Kashmir, the worst attack there in decades, promising an appropriate response and calling on world leaders to isolate its neighbor.
Pakistan has denied involvement in the attack, in which at least 40 Indian soldiers were killed Thursday when a driver slammed an explosives-packed vehicle into a paramilitary convoy. But by Friday afternoon, India had recalled its ambassador to Pakistan for consultations in New Delhi.
With national elections in India set to take place by May and Prime Minister Narendra Modi facing a close contest, analysts say he risks looking weak if he does not respond. Mr. Modi was elected in 2014 on promises to crack down on Kashmir’s militants and to adopt a tougher line on Pakistan. The nuclear-armed rivals have gone to war three times since independence in 1947, with two of the wars fought over Kashmir.
“We will give a befitting reply; our neighbor will not be allowed to destabilize us,” Mr. Modi said after an emergency meeting with security advisers on Friday, according to Reuters. “Our security forces are given full freedom” to respond, he added.
Finance Minister Arun Jaitley said India would use all diplomatic means to “ensure the complete isolation from the international community of Pakistan, of which incontrovertible evidence is available of having a direct hand in this gruesome terrorist incident.”
The streets of Jammu, in the part of the disputed Himalayan region that India controls, were generally quiet on Friday after a curfew was imposed. But anti-Pakistan protests broke out in parts of India, with demonstrators calling on the government to retaliate.
Scores poured into Delhi’s streets, wearing the saffron-colored scarves of Mr. Modi’s Hindu nationalist party, pumping their fists in the air and waving signs that read: “Attack Pakistan. Crush it.”
But India’s options for putting diplomatic pressure on Pakistan are limited. Pakistan is largely shielded by its alliance with China, which has used its veto power at the United Nations Security Council to protect it, while propping up Pakistan’s sputtering, increasingly isolated economy. Pakistan has grown closer to China as its relations with the United States have broken down over the past decade.
India has renewed its call for the United Nations to blacklist Masood Azhar, the leader of the militant group linked to Thursday’s attack, Jaish-e-Muhammad, or Army of Muhammad. But a Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman rebuffed the demand on Friday.
Putting Mr. Azhar personally on a terrorist blacklist would deliver a financial blow to Jaish-e-Muhammad. Although the group is banned in Pakistan, Indian and American officials say it operates and raises funds in the country under different names.
Last year, the United States pushed for the Security Council to blacklist Mr. Azhar, but China blocked the move.
On Thursday, the White House demanded that Pakistan end its support to terrorists, adding that this week’s “attack only strengthens our resolve to bolster counterterrorism cooperation and coordination between the United States and India.”
Pakistan has long denied any links to terrorist groups and has bristled at Washington’s warming ties with New Delhi.
India also ended its preferential trade status for Pakistan on Friday — a limited move, since their bilateral trade amounts to a comparatively small $2 billion annually.
India’s options for a military response are also limited, analysts say, with the disputed border blanketed in thick snow and Pakistani troops on high alert.
The last time Jaish-e-Muhammad staged a major attack, in 2016, it infiltrated an Indian Army base in the town of Uri, Kashmir, and killed 19 soldiers in a predawn raid. India’s military responded then with what it described as “surgical strikes” in Pakistan.
But the nature of Thursday’s bombing suggests the insurgency is adapting and becoming more homegrown, leaving observers to question how deep the links to Pakistan really run.
The militant who claimed responsibility for the attack, Aadil Ahmad Dar, was from a village about six miles from where the Indian convoy was struck, in contrast to the fighters and weapons that once streamed in from Pakistani-occupied areas to sustain the insurgency. And the explosives he packed into his car appear to have been locally procured, security experts said.
An insurgency that was once stoked by Pakistan may have taken on a life of its own, as regular Kashmiris become more disenfranchised and angry at the central government in Delhi and its use of force.
Mr. Dar was a high school dropout working as a day laborer when he disappeared last March, said his father, Ghulam Hassan Dar, a farmer. The family searched for their son in vain, until neighbors showed the Dars a photograph on their phone featuring their son, an automatic rifle in hand, surrounded by the insignia of Jaish-e-Muhammad.
“I was broken when I saw that picture,” Ghulam Dar said. “I knew I will soon have to shoulder his coffin.” He added, “I told my wife our son was gone forever.”
Friends of the attacker dispute how he turned to militancy. Some say it was after he was wounded at a protest in 2016, where his leg was struck by a bullet fired by the Central Reserve Police Force, a paramilitary unit.
Many Kashmiris loathe the paramilitary unit, viewing it as an occupying force recruited from across India to suppress them. Mr. Dar’s attack on Thursday was aimed at the force, whose use of pellet guns against protesters has blinded scores of people.
Others say Mr. Dar was ideologically drawn to Jaish-e-Muhammad, believing Kashmir should be led by Pakistan, as a Muslim-majority nation. Kashmir’s fate was undecided when the British partitioned India in 1947. Since then, India has ignored United Nations resolutions to hold a referendum in the disputed territory, allowing locals to decide whether they want to join India or Pakistan.
The local news media reported that Mr. Dar used more than 750 pounds of explosives against the convoy.
“It is not possible to bring such massive amounts of explosives by infiltrating the border,” said Lt. Gen. D.S. Hooda, an army commander.
General Hooda added that the material may have been taken from stashes of explosives being used to blast a mountainside to broaden the highway to Jammu, the same road where the attack occurred.
The attack has prompted new questions about how tenable Mr. Modi’s hard-line strategy in Kashmir is. India has about 250,000 armed forces in Kashmir, making it one of the most militarized corners of the world. The armed presence affects everyday life for most locals, whose farmland, homes or schools are overshadowed by the military presence.
Happymon Jacob, a professor at Jawaharlal Nehru University in Delhi who tracks the conflict, said that only a handful of Kashmiri youth joined the insurgency in 2013 — the year before Mr. Modi came to power — compared with more than 150 last year.
“They aren’t joining the militants from Islamic seminaries, but they’re fresh graduates from engineering schools, or they hold jobs. For an entire generation to be so angry with India says Delhi’s policy has been a failure,” Professor Jacob said.
He added that the central government had not tried to engage local people or find meaningful alliances with local politicians. Last year, Mr. Modi’s governing party ended its alliance with a powerful regional party, leaving the state under the central government’s control.
Gowher Nazir, who lives in a village adjacent to Mr. Dar’s, said: “These rebels were once dreamers, looking forward to living their lives. But they have been pushed to a wall.”