Insurgents launch new attacks in Kashmir

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A big rise in terrorist incidents by insurgents prompted crisis talks among senior ministers of the central Indian and Kashmir state governments in Delhi yesterday.

A big rise in terrorist incidents by insurgents prompted crisis talks among senior ministers of the central Indian and Kashmir state governments in Delhi yesterday.

A rash of attacks in the state - there were two more involving rockets fired against Indian forces yesterday - has forced a strategy reassessment. On 3 November, militants of the feared Lashkar-e-Toiba group, based in Pakistan, stormed an army cantonment in Srinagar, the Kashmir capital, killing a major and six other soldiers. In the night-long gun battle that followed, two militants were killed and another escaped.

Analysts in Delhi worry that the insurgents are now imitating the suicide tactics of Sri Lanka's Tamil Tigers. Repeated grenade attacks in recent weeks on the seat of the state government showed similar boldness and motivation.

As well as these high-profile assaults in the Kashmir Valley, Indian and Pakistani forces have engaged across the Line of Control (LoC, Kashmir's de facto internal border) for the first time since the end of hostilities in Kargil in August. Infiltration of militants from Pakistan-controlled Kashmir is said to be rising. Even more worryingly for India, "exfiltration" of young people across the LoC for training in militant camps on the Pakistani side is also said to have increased.

One analyst believes the "willingness of militant outfits to directly confront security targets and avoid civilian targets" is raising their esteem again among a population that is more than 95 per cent Muslim, and deeply estranged from India. Attacks such as that on the Srinagar cantonment require strong local support.

The politicians, led by the hawkish Home Affairs Minister, Lal Krishna Advani, will be determined to avoid a repetition of the Kargil ambush in the spring, in which hundreds of Pakistani troops occupied strategic positions deep inside Indian-controlled Kashmir.

They are keenly aware that Pakistan's new military ruler, General Pervez Musharraf, was the architect of the Kargil incident, and since seizing power on 12 October has made consistently hostile comments about India's role in Kashmir.

After the success of Atal Behari Vajpayee, the Indian Prime Minister, in promoting Pakistan's suspension from the Commonwealth in Durban last week, relations between the two countries are at a low ebb. One theory for the latest spate of attacks is that they are a systematic attempt to test the weak spots in India's defences, in preparation for another big military initiative. Indian intelligence takes it for granted now that the efforts of Pakistani regular forces and the militants will continue to complement and reinforce each other. But, beyond throwing even more money at the already huge military commitment to Kashmir's defence, India's new government has yet to show it has any clue to a settlement of the issue.

Nearly all of the leaders of the All-Party Hurriyet Conference, the state's opposition forum, are in custody. The local elections were a farce, with most voters obeying the militants' call for a boycott.

Kashmir's economy is in ruins; unemployment is huge. Ideas for breaking the political deadlock seem non-existent - unless yesterday's meeting yields a big surprise.