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Tuesday, 6 August, 2002, 14:51 GMT 15:51 UK
Kashmir attack revives tensions
Indian soldiers on patrol
Militants appear undeterred by Indian security
The attack on Hindu pilgrims in Indian-administered Kashmir has come at a particularly sensitive time.

Hindu pilgrims escorted by police
The attack will put pressure on Delhi to act

Fresh elections to the Indian-held part of the disputed state have been announced and will take place next month.

Islamic militant groups have said they plan to disrupt the elections, and since polling dates were announced last week there has been an upsurge in violence.

Correspondents say the deliberate targeting of innocent civilians in the latest attack is certain to spark outrage in India.

India's deputy prime minister, LK Advani, has named a Pakistani-based militant group, al-Mansoorian, as having carried out this latest attack.

Recrimination

India has consistently blamed Pakistan for doing little to prevent infiltration of armed militants across the Line of Control, that separates the two armies in Kashmir.

And ever since an attack on India's parliament last December, allegedly by Pakistan-based militants, the two countries have been locked into a tense confrontation along their border.

But there has been a gradual easing of tension in the past few weeks and the threat of war between the two nuclear neighbours has diminished.

And international pressure on the two countries to step down appears to have had some effect.

An attack last month in Indian-administered Kashmir, in which 27 Hindu labourers were killed, brought a familiar round of protests and condemnations from senior Indian officials.

But they stopped short of directly blaming Pakistan and the military administration there for the incident.

Domestic pressure

This new attack will once again place the Indian Government under tremendous domestic pressure to take a stronger, even more hardline stand.

But questions will also be raised on the ability of the security forces to prevent such attacks from taking place and on the level of protection for the pilgrims.

Indian soldier at the camp
The militants fired at the camp while the pilgrims were sleeping

The Indian authorities had anticipated an attack on the devotees taking part in the Amarnath pilgrimage.

Extra security had been laid on with hundreds of additional police and special forces been lining the route and accompanying pilgrims on their trek. But it has not deterred militants.

"First you encouraged them (the pilgrims) to go on the journey and then you failed to provide them adequate security," said Somnath Chatterjee, leader of India's main leftist party, the Communist Party of India (Marxist).

"This only shows the total failure and collapse of the set up," he was quoted as saying by the AFP news agency.

The main opposition Congress party described the incident a "failure" of the government.

Seeking sympathy

India will be keen to contain the domestic criticism while seeking greater international sympathy for what it describes as its own war against terrorism.

But with elections due in the next few weeks, an increase in violence cannot be ruled out, and will only stir up greater tension in the region.

Britain and the United States are pressing both India and Pakistan to reduce tension and more toward talks on Kashmir.

But correspondents say the sense of outrage in India at attacks like this is going to make that process even more fraught.

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See also:

06 Aug 02 | South Asia
30 Jul 02 | South Asia
18 Jul 02 | South Asia
06 Aug 02 | South Asia
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