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Kashmir attack overshadows rivals’ anti-terror talk

Kashmir remains such a contentious issue between India and Pakistan sympathizers within the disputed territory that even the mere probability of talks between various factions prompts protests, general strikes, and?as recently as late May 2006?even suicide attacks. A round of high level ministerial talks between the neighboring governments held in New Delhi concluded on May 3, 2006, a day in which 35 Hindu villagers were killed by Islamic militants in Kashmir (Terrorist Incident forthcoming). None of Kashmir’s dozen rebel groups within the Hurriyat or “Freedom” alliance, nor any not affiliated with the umbrella organization have claimed responsibility. Those talks appeared to bear some fruit and it seems confidence measures are slowly improving the lives of Kashmiris of both political stripes. A new truck service bridging the two sides of Kashmir has been confirmed and a second cross-border bus line has been established. Further reducing the tensions is the agreement by both sides to free and exchange civilian and political prisoners being held. Nonetheless, despite promises that the scheduled visit by Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh in late May 2006 would be characterized by “out of the box” thinking at a proposed 2-day all-parties conference, separatist leaders Sayeed Ali Geelani, Chairman of Tehrik-ek-Hurriyat (G group) and Javed Mir (Chairman of the Jammu and Kashmir Liberation Forum JKLF ) called for a general strike in Kashmir as well as promised to boycott the conference. They both were subsequently jailed by authorities hoping to reduce the unrest on the streets during the talks. Although popular unrest was not widespread and the arrests appear to have averted widespread civil strife, unidentified extremists spectacularly targeted tourists at least twice since the conference. On May 24 an Indian tourist bus was targeted by Islamic militants who tossed a grenade into the vehicle killing four and injuring six in the Kashmir summer capital, Srinagar (Terrorist Incident forthcoming). A week later, another tourist bus was targeted in a grenade attack injuring 21 passengers in the same city. These strikes mark an important departure from normal Islamic extremist violence. Add to that the bold attack at a crowded political rally on May 21, 2006 killing 7 and wounding 22 as well as a suicide strike on May 23, 2006 injuring at least 25 Indian soldiers when a vehicle laden with explosives rammed a military bus (Terrorist Incident forthcoming), and it becomes clear that a wider offensive in Kashmir is underway. While it is clear that rejectionist leaders are keen to take credit for opposing such talks with Indian authorities, rarely is attribution given or taken for lethal strikes against tourists and other civilians. Nonetheless, if relations are to be built by confidence measures periodically improved, then such a level of violence might well be part of the Kashmir political spectrum for many years to come.

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