NEW DELHI — India on Friday accused Pakistan 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 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 2015 on a campaign filled with promises of cracking down on Kashmir’s militants and adopting a tougher line on Pakistan. The nuclear-armed rivals have gone to war three times since achieving independence in 1947, two of them 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 and Kashmir, the area of the disputed Himalayan region that India controls, were quiet on Friday after a curfew was imposed. But anti-Pakistan protests broke out in other places in India, with demonstrators calling on the government to retaliate.
Scores of protesters 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 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 that carried out 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 called on Pakistan to “end immediately the support and safe haven provided to all terrorist groups operating on its soil.” It added that the “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 by cross the border to launch what it described as “surgical strikes” in Pakistan.