Leonard Doyle: Kashmir remains salt in running sore with India

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The Independent Online

The synchronised bombs that blew apart the commuter trains of Mumbai were a brutal reminder that despite India's swashbuckling arrival on the world stage, the festering conflict in Kashmir still has the capacity to bring the juggernaut to a halt.

The original Kashmiri militants have mostly foresworn violence, but their Pakistani fellow travellers have not and there is every possibility that they - inspired by Osama bin Laden's al-Qa'ida - were behind yesterday's blasts. And while Kashmir is the salt on the running sore between India and Pakistan, for many militants the game has moved on to pressing demands for Indian's 150 million Muslims.

India's financial capital has been targeted in the past. In 1993 bomb blasts killed at least 250 people.

It is only four years since India and Pakistan were on the verge of war, and despite three rounds of "normalisation" talks they are no closer than when they began in February 2004 to a resolution.

Kashmir has been at the heart of a territorial dispute between the two nations since 1947, and over which they have fought two wars. The far northern and western areas are under Pakistan's control; the Kashmir valley, Jammu, and Ladakh are under India's control. UN resolutions calling for a plebiscite to determine the final status of the territory have been rejected by India.

Since the signing of the Simla accord in 1972, India and Pakistan have agreed to resolve differences "by peaceful means". But behind the scenes a vicious struggle has continued. In 1998, when India tested five nuclear devices, Pakistan reciprocated, and shelling and shooting over the ceasefire line by both nations' troops followed. Occupation and repression by 400,000 Indian troops has turned Kashmir into a battlefield. And in the recent past, despite denials from Islamabad, rebels have received arms from across the Pakistani side of the Line of Control.

Since 2004 the level of violence has been on the decline. But the two countries' priorities remain sharply at odds. With militants mistrustful about being sucked into cold peace, and Pakistan's generals stamping their heels impatiently as talks go nowhere, discussions between India's Prime Minister, Manmohan Singh, and Pakistan's President, Pervez Musharraf, have gone nowhere. In this political vacuum, militants determined toexploit the deep well of anger over Kashmir may well have struck again.