Pakistan shells kill hopes of Kashmir returning to normal

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The Independent Online
Violence rocked the troubled region of Kashmir again yesterday, when artillery shells fired from across the border in Pakistan landed in a town on the Indian side, killing 17 people.

Peter Popham reports on Pakistan's efforts to increase tensions in the disputed area

Seventeen people were killed and 30 injured in the Kashmir town of Kargil on Tuesday when artillery shells from the Pakistan side of the Line of Control between Indian- and Pakistani-controlled Kashmir fell on the town centre. A school, hotels, the market and the town's hospital were all hit when the shelling began at 3pm local time, and panic ensued in the cobbled lanes of the medieval market town, once an important Himalayan trading post, as people tried to flee.

Kargil's population is principally Shia Muslim, and a mosque was one of the buildings hit, as well as a bus stop and an electricity sub station.

According to an Indian army spokesman, 100 shells were fired in the space of two hours, and Pakistani troops later targeted the main highway between Srinagar and the Ladakh capital, Leh. Indian forces returned fire, destroying Pakistani bunkers, and the exchange of fire continued until midnight. There were further exchanges of fire elsewhere in the state yesterday morning.

Yesterday, the Kashmir chief minister, Dr Farooq Abdullah, visited Kargil to inspect the damage, and told the townspeople, "Pakistani generals and the army do not want Indo-Pakistani relations to improve and they are creating impediments to normalising relations by resorting to unprovoked firing on civilians". He asked residents to return to their homes and resume their normal activities. "We should not be cowed by such acts," he said.

But Tsering Wangial, 45, interviewed at a tuberculosis hospital outside Kargil where his sister was being treated for her injuries, said: "We have had a bitter experience, and in April, too, we came under heavy shelling which forced us to flee. No-one wants to go back to Kargil."

Throughout this summer the Indian authorities have attempted to persuade the outside world that the Vale of Kashmir was once again fit for foreign tourists. But although visitor numbers are well up on previous years, their efforts have been constantly sabotaged by firefights, bomb blasts and brutal army shakedowns.

Tuesday's murderous assault again rammed home the message that Kashmir is in a state of war. But what other purpose do such attacks serve? Indian commentators believe that Pakistani firing across the Line of Control provides cover for Pakistan to push more armed infiltrators in before the onset of winter. Yesterday's Hindustan Times claimed that 1,000 militants have been smuggled in over the past five months. The militants in turn help to keep Kashmir's woes in the international spotlight. Indian media were jubilant last week when President Clinton, in separate meetings in New York with the Indian and Pakistani premiers, said the magic words "We do not wish to interfere" in the Kashmir dispute, throwing the onus on India and Pakistan to solve the problem bilaterally. But Pakistan's continuing bombardments suggest they have not given up hope of luring the West into attempting to mediate.

New Delhi (AP) -- Two bombs exploded in a bustling old quarter of the Indian capital yesterday, injuring 16 people. The explosions occurred in the crowded Sadar Bazar area, where many of the city's wholesale markets are located. The bombs were placed on the roadside and were not powerful. Most of the injured were pedestrians and shoppers thronging the area. The crowds are larger at this time of the year because of major Hindu festivals in October. In July, blasts in the same area had injured 12 people. No one claimed responsibility for those blasts, but Muslim and Sikh separatists have been blamed for previous explosions.