India's Prime Minister Narendra Modi yesterday promised a strong response to a car bombing in Kashmir that killed 44 paramilitary that his government blamed on Pakistan, ratcheting up tensions with the nuclear-rival.
The attack on a military convoy in Jammu and Kashmir where India has been battling an insurgency was the worst in decades and comes just months before Modi's ruling Hindu nationalists face a tight general election.
"We will give a befitting reply, our neighbour will not be allowed to de-stabilise us," Modi said in a speech soon after he called his security advisers to consider a response to the attack that has provoked an outpouring of anger on social media and demands for retribution.
"My condolences to families of those martyred in Pulwama attack, those behind the terror strike will pay a very heavy price," Modi said.
The Pakistan-based Islamist militant group Jaish-e-Mohammad (JeM) claimed responsibility soon after a suicide bomber rammed his car laden with explosives into a bus carrying Central Reserve Police Force personnel on Thursday.
The Indian government said it had incontrovertible evidence of Pakistan's involvement in the attack. Islamabad rejected the suggestion it was linked to the attack.
India will take all possible diplomatic steps to ensure the "complete isolation" of Pakistan, cabinet minister Arun Jaitley told reporters soon after the cabinet committee met at Modi's residence.
Jaitley said India had withdrawn most favoured nation (MFN) trade privileges given to Pakistan and was working on a plan to isolate the country internationally in the wake of the attacks.
But bilateral trade between India and Pakistan is barely $2 billion per year and Modi facing a tough election is likely to come under pressure for a more muscular response.
He took office in 2014 promising to tackle Muslim Pakistan, with which India has twice gone to war since independence from Britain in 1947.
Kashmir is a Muslim-majority region at the heart of decades of hostility between India and Pakistan. The neighbours both rule parts of the region while claiming the entire territory as theirs.
The last major attack in Kashmir was in 2016 when militants raided an Indian army camp in Uri, killing 20 soldiers. Modi responded with a surgical strike on suspected militant camps across the border in Pakistan Kashmir weeks later.
Pakistan's Ministry of Foreign Affairs called the latest Kashmir attack a matter of "grave concern".
But in a brief statement early yesterday it added: "We strongly reject any insinuation by elements in the Indian government and media circles that seek to link the attack to the State of Pakistan without investigations."
The White House urged Pakistan in a statement "to end immediately the support and safe haven provided to all terrorist groups operating on its soil". It said the attack strengthens US resolve to step up counter-terrorism cooperation with India, reported Reuters.
India's foreign ministry summoned Pakistan's envoy to lodge a complaint. India also recalled its envoy from Islamabad for consultations, reports said.
But beyond these moves, Modi has "no easy options", Manoj Joshi from the New Delhi based Observer Research Foundation think-tank told AFP.
Military action could "escalate into something big", he said.