Militant attack adds to Kashmir tension

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The Independent Online

Islamist militants killed at least 25 civilians with grenades and automatic weapons fire in the disputed territory of Kashmir yesterday, according to the Indian authorities, threatening renewed tension with Pakistan.

Islamist militants killed at least 25 civilians with grenades and automatic weapons fire in the disputed territory of Kashmir yesterday, according to the Indian authorities, threatening renewed tension with Pakistan.

The attack in a slum area of Jammu, the winter capital of Kashmir, came as many people were watching the one-day cricket match at Lord's between India and England on television. Up to eight armed men threw three or four grenades before opening fire, witnesses said. The militants fled after exchanging gunfire with the security forces.

Most of the dead were said to be women and children, with another 30 people wounded.

It was the bloodiest attack in Kashmir since an assault nearly two months ago on a military base, also near Jammu, in which 34 people, mainly soldiers' wives and children, were killed. That incident brought India and Pakistan, both nuclear-armed, to the brink of war.

At the height of the confrontation, more than a million troops were deployed on both sides of the border as Delhi, with American support, demanded that General Pervez Musharraf's government in Islamabad crack down on Islamist infiltration of Indian territory. Western countries withdrew most of their diplomats and urged their nationals to leave the region as the world contemplated the danger of the first use of nuclear weapons in more than half a century.

International pressure and the onset of the blistering South Asian summer reduced the threat of war a few weeks ago, but the underlying causes of tension remain. The Indians say the Islamists are linked to the al-Qa'ida network, and that India's struggle against militants attempting to disrupt its rule in Kashmir should be seen as part of the war against terrorism.

President Musharraf's help was vital in the American-led campaign which ousted the Taliban regime in Afghanistan last year and put its al-Qa'ida allies to flight, but he is still struggling to control Islamist militancy within his own borders, including a spate of attacks on Western targets. Yesterday 13 people, including 10 German and Austrian tourists, were hurt when what appeared to be a handmade grenade was thrown at them while they were visiting an archaeological site in northern Pakistan.

Officials said no one was seriously injured, and the tourists were taken back to Islamabad under police guard after treatment at the local hospital. Because the explosive device was unsophisticated, the incident was blamed on "local mischief-makers".

But there have been several attacks on foreigners in Pakistan this year, including an explosion last month outside the US consulate in Karachi which killed 12 Pakistanis, and a car bombing in May near the city's Sheraton Hotel in which 14 people died, including 11 French engineers. Also in Karachi, the American journalist Daniel Pearl was kidnapped and murdered, while grenades were thrown into the international church in Islamabad in March, killing the wife and daughter of an American diplomat. Three others died and 45 were injured, including five Britons. On both sides of the Line of Control, the de facto border in Kashmir, there are warnings that the autumn will bring fresh tensions. More than 60,000 people have died in India's only Muslim-majority state since separatists and supporters of union with Pakistan began their insurgency a decade ago, and India wants to hold elections in its half of Kashmir before the end of the year. Yesterday's attack in Jammu, on the anniversary of an uprising in the territory 70 years ago, emphasises that the campaign could be bloody.

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