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Violence in Indian-Held Kashmir Attempts to Foil State Elections

By John Lancaster
THE WASHINGTON POST -- srinagar, india

Barely three months after high-level U.S. diplomacy headed off a possible war between India and Pakistan over Kashmir, the disputed Himalayan region is once again on the boil.

With a series of brazen and bloody attacks, Islamic militants have intensified their efforts to spoil state legislative elections in the Indian-held portion of Kashmir, killing 23 political activists and two candidates since Aug. 22, along with scores of others. The spike in violence has paralleled what Indian officials say is a sharp increase in incursions by Islamic militants across the Line of Control separating Indian and Pakistani forces in Kashmir.

In an interview Thursday, a senior Indian security official said as many as 200 militants may have infiltrated Indian-held Kashmir during August.

Radio traffic between the militants and their commanders inside Pakistan also has surged, another official said.

Indian officials say the renewed activity points to a clear breach of the pledge made by Pakistan’s president, Gen. Pervez Musharraf, in June to Deputy Secretary of State Richard Armitage to permanently halt the infiltrations by militants fighting to end Indian rule in mostly Muslim Kashmir.

Musharraf’s vow defused, at least temporarily, the immediate threat of war between the two nuclear-armed powers.

But neither side has withdrawn its army from their common border, where hundreds of thousands of troops have been in a tense standoff since December.

As the violence in Kashmir escalates, Indian officials have once again begun to hint at the possibility of a military response.

“We are at our wits’ end,” said the senior Indian security official in Kashmir, where elections will be held on Sept. 16, Sept. 24 and Oct. 1. “Our patience may run out after the elections.”