Valentine's Day attack 'worst ever' in Kashmir
On 14 February, in a major suicide attack on Indian paramilitary forces by an armed rebel, no fewer than 49 Central Reserve Police Force (CRPF) personnel were killed and several others injured in the southern area of Indian-administered Kashmir.
The attack was carried out by a local member of the Jaish-e-Mohammad (JeM) armed group against a convoy travelling on a highway in Lethpora village, Pulwama district.
The injured CRPF personnel were rushed to army hospitals at Base 92 in Srinigar's Badami Bagh cantonment. Several of the injured remain in critical condition and the death toll might yet rise.
The suicide attacker reportedly rammed his car, reportedly packed with more than 350kg of explosives, into the convoy of CRPF personnel, leaving one bus shattered. The initial images of the blast spot uploaded on social media showed the main target bus left in a mangled heap of metal while several other buses were damaged.
The blast was reportedly heard ten kilometres away. The scene was littered with body parts.
The attacker was revealed as 20-year-old Adil Ahmad Dar, alias Waqas, a resident of Gundi Bagh village in south Kashmir's Pulwama district.
Before joining the JeM rebel group in March 2018, along with his cousin Sameer Ahmad, Adil was working as a stonemason and led prayers in a local mosque.
The attack is believed to be deadliest since the armed insurgency against Indian rule erupted in this disputed Himalayan region in the late 1980s.
It was around 3:15pm when the convoy of 78 vehicles carrying more than 2,500 CRPF personnel was attacked. Officials said the troops were returning to their barracks after leave.
With the highway that connects India with Srinagar, the summer capital of Indian-administered Kashmir, closed due to bad weather, a higher-than-usual number of troops were in the convoy using this particular road.
In a ten-minute video, released after the blast, the bomber Adil is seen claiming responsibility for the attack. Surrounded with ammunition and holding a gun, Adil says: "When this video reaches you I will be heaven.
"We are not begging with folded hands in front of you [India] to stop your oppression on the people of Kashmir. But your oppression makes our resistance movement strong."
In January 2018, a group of three JeM militants stormed the CRPF training centre in the same area. The attack left five CRPF personnel and three insurgents dead.
At least 19 Indian soldiers were killed in September 2016 when four militants attacked an army brigade headquarters in the Uri area of northern Kashmir.
After the Uri attack, India's central government said it had conducted "surgical strikes" across the Line of Control against "terrorists". Rejecting India's claim, Pakistan in response said no such strike had taken place.
Scores of deadly attacks on Indian armed forces have taken place since the 1990s.
Following Thursday's attack, the authorities shut down mobile internet across south Kashmir, while other parts of the region saw online access restricted to 2G speeds.
A team from India's National Investigation Agency has already arrived in Kashmir. The group, along with Jammu and Kashmir police, is conducting a forensic investigation.
The President of India, Ram Nath Kovind, condemned the attack. Expressing his condolences to the families of CRPF personnel and wishing a speedy recovery to those injured, Kovind said: "The entire nation stands united in the fight against the forces of terror and evil."
Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi added: "The sacrifice of our brave security forces shall not go in vain."
Alongside Delhi's leaders, local mainstream politicians - including former chief ministers Omar Abdullah and Mehbooba Mufti - also condemned the attack.
Even separatist leaders including Syed Ali Geelani, Mirwaiz Umar Farooq and Mohammad Yasin Malik expressed their regret over the "non-stop killing" happening in Kashmir.
In a joint statement, separatist leaders said instead of solving the Kashmir dispute, India had used a muscular military approach to counter a political problem.
"If hatred and revenge are to stop, if killing and counter-killings are to stop and if we want peace in the region we have to put an end to hostilities," separatist leaders said.
"And the most effective and civilised manner to do so is to reach out and engage and listen to the concerns of all three stakeholders and address them in the spirit of humanity and justice. Resolve the Kashmir dispute for all time."
Violent clashes broke out in the Hindu-majority Jammu region of Indian-administered Kashmir after the attack.
Much of the region has been completely shut down on Friday, with mobs damaging scores of vehicles. Authorities have imposed a curfew in several areas.
The Cabinet committee meeting on security chaired by Modi was held in New Delhi on Friday. India's leadership decided in the meeting to withdraw the "Most-Favoured Nation" status from Pakistan.
The union home minister on Friday reached Srinagar to pay tribute to CRPF personnel, while Modi threatened retaliation from New Delhi.
"Militants committed biggest mistake," Modi said. "Those who are supporting militants by sheltering them are responsible. They have to pay a huge price."
Denying any involvement in the attack, Pakistan's Ministry of Foreign Affairs said the attack was the matter of grave concern.
Kashmir is the scene of a long-running conflict between India and Pakistan. Both nuclear nations claim the region in full but only control parts.
Guerilla groups have fought against Indian rule for the past three decades and tend to receive support from local people. Many here want either independence from India or the merger of terrority with Pakistan.
The tension in the region has escalated since the armed militant commander Burhan Wani was killed in July 2018.
Last year, more than 550 people - including armed militants, government forces and civilians - were killed, marking the deadliest year in a decade.
Aamir Ali Bhat is a Kashmir-based freelance journalist who reports on human rights abuses, culture and the environment. He writes for The New Arab, Kashmir Ink and Free Press Kashmir.
Follow him on Twitter: @Aamirbhatt3