Indian air strike on Kashmir kills 160

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The Independent Online
FOR THE first time in more than 20 years, India used airpower yesterday to attack what it called "infiltrators" in Kashmir.

Two waves of attacks were launched, the first at 6.30am local time, the second at 2.30pm, using five helicopter gunships and two Indian Air Force jet fighters to attack positions occupied by militants above the national highway that links Srinagar, the capital of the state of Jammu, and Kashmir with Ladakh and India's sensitive border with China. According to reports on All India Radio, 160 people, including Pakistani soldiers, were killed in the attacks.

Indian officials maintain that while the 600-odd infiltrators are Afghanis, the operation has been meticulously planned by the Pakistan Army. They claim that the infiltrators could not have crossed the "Line of Control" (the de facto border) in such large numbers without the Pakistan Army's help, and that the sophisticated equipment in use, including military radios, automatic weapons, mortars, radar, snowmobile scooters and helipads, also points to close Pakistani involvement.

In Islamabad, a Pakistan Army spokesman said Indian aircraft "bombed Pakistan- occupied Kashmir three different times today" and called it "a very grave escalation. Pakistan armed forces reserve the right to respond," he went on. "We are prepared for all eventualities."

The escalation of the Kashmir conflict comes one year after Indian and Pakistani nuclear tests prompted fears that Kashmir could become a nuclear battleground.

Three weeks ago, guerrilla forces numbered at 300 to 600crossed the Line of Control between Indian and Pakistani sectors of Kashmir, catching the 5,000-odd Indian troops on duty in the area napping.

They seized control of a ridge above the vital national highway that links Srinagarand Kashmir with Leh, capital of the former Himalayan buddhist kingdom of Ladakh and the highest city in India.

Sources here believe that the local Indian commander delayed running to Delhi for help and tried to flush out the infiltrators with his own troops.

India says that 17 Indian soldiers were killed and 90 injured in the fighting. Additionally, an artillery ammunition dump was destroyed.

Thirty thousand troops have now been sent in.

Until this week, the crisis was portrayed by Indian politicians and the media as very much "Kashmir business as usual". Every year when the snow melts in the Kargil area, site of the present fighting, infiltrators cross from the Pakistan side. Artillery shelling across the line is also routine.

But it is now clear that the incident that began on 6 May was far bigger than the normal. It is a huge embarrassment to India's government, led by the Hindu nationalist BJP, and to the Prime Minister, Atal Bihari Vajpayee, in particular. It was the so-called Lahore Declaration, signed by Mr Vajpayee and Mr Nawaz Sharif, his Pakistani counterpart, in February, that persuaded the outside world that south Asia's feuding siblings were at last on the road to amity.

But on Tuesday Mr Vajpayee made clear that he viewed the Pakistani intrusion as "a violation of the Lahore declaration." Both India and Pakistan had promised to maintain peace and tranquillity along the Line of Control, he said.

Leading article,

Review, page 3

A Fatal

Dispute

THE KASHMIR dispute is the sub-continent's running sore.

It has started two of the three wars India and Pakistan have fought since independence in 1947. The Islamic insurgency in the state, which began 10 years ago, has claimed 20,000 lives.

The dispute started two months after independence from Britain. The feudal ruler of the state, a Hindu maharaja, succumbed to pressure from the Indian prime minister to join India. However, the great majority of the population was Muslim.

Indian and Pakistani armies clashed in the state, and the ceasefire line at the end of hostilities on 1 January 1949 became the de facto border. India now rules two-thirds of Kashmir.

To complicate the dispute, China seized a portion of Indian Kashmir in 1961.

A recent poll showed that most Kashmiris would prefer complete independence to rule by either India or Pakistan.

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