India raises the stakes in row over Kashmir

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The Independent Online
INDIA'S poor relations with Pakistan entered a dangerous new phase yesterday when the Prime Minister, Narasimha Rao, staked a claim to a portion of the disputed Kashmir region which lies within Pakistan's boundaries.

Speaking to an Independence Day crowd at the 17th-century Red Fort in New Delhi, Mr Rao said: 'The one unfinished task is that Pakistan vacate its occupation of those areas of Kashmir which are under its control and should form part of India.'

This was Mr Rao's harshest attack on Pakistan. Since taking power in 1991, relations have deteriorated sharply. Artillery salvoes are routinely fired across their border. India blames Pakistan for helping Muslim criminals carry out a bombing campaign in Bombay two years ago which left 250 people dead. Mr Rao has also accused Islamabad of secretly arming Muslims fighting to liberate the Indian-held part of Kashmir.

It was clear from his speech that the normally mild-mannered prime minister had finally lost his patience with Pakistan. This threat to annex the north-west part of Kashmir, under Pakistan rule, could be merely a ploy to scare Islamabad into leaving Indan-occupied Kashmir alone. In the past four years, over 10,000 Kashmiris have died in fighting between the Muslim militant groups and the Indian security forces, who are mostly Hindus. Some Islamic guerrillas want independence, while the others are seeking to break away from India and join their Pakistani brethren.

India's latest escalation follows a declaration on Sunday by the Pakistani Prime Minister, Benazir Bhutto, that the Kashmir dispute is an 'unfinished agenda' remaining from the 1947 partition of Muslim Pakistan from the rest of the Indian sub-continent. Ms Bhutto vowed never to cease support for Kashmiris fighting the Indian security forces. India and Pakistan twice before have fought wars over Kashmir. Now both sides are thought to have nuclear weapons.

In Kashmir, the strife drags on: two people were killed yesterday in a rocket attack which narrowly missed a stadium in Srinagar, the region's capital, where the Indian governor was giving a speech.

BANGALORE - Four Hindu militants, one a 14-year-old boy, were killed and two were hurt yesterday when Indian security forces fired on activists trying to storm a disputed Muslim prayer ground in a bid to raise the national flag to mark Independence Day, Reuter reports.