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Monday, 25 November, 2002, 14:17 GMT
Temple attack - blow for Kashmir leader
A temple official surveys the damage to the Raghunath temple
The temple attack may have wide implications

The latest violence in Indian-administered Kashmir comes at a critical time for the state's new administration.

A sharp increase in attacks over the past few days has pushed the state government led by Mufti Mohammad Sayeed on the defensive.

Since being sworn in as Kashmir's new leader in October, Mr Sayeed has taken several steps aimed at winning popular support in the violence-hit state.

He has released political prisoners, promised to scrap tough anti-terror laws and rehabilitate the families of separatists.

It is a policy that has come in for sharp criticism from hardline political parties in India, in particular the ruling BJP.

Now, with an increase in violence in Indian-administered Kashmir in the past few days, Mr Sayeed's government has been pushed into a corner.


In one of the earliest reactions to the attack on the Raghunath temple in Jammu, junior Home Minister and BJP politician ID Swamy said the policies of the Kashmir Government had started showing "adverse effects".

Mufti Mohammad Sayeed
Sayeed has vowed to fight the militants
Others blamed the government for being "soft" on terrorism and condoning violence.

Mr Sayeed has been quick to condemn the attack, even going as far as to blame Pakistan for it.

This is a rare departure for a man who has not mentioned Pakistan in all these months, and whose party strongly believes that India's domestic policies have led to the Kashmir problem, rather than any external force.

Analysts say the new government may have to revise its strategies, particularly those aimed at counter-insurgency forces.

During the campaign, Mr Sayeed's People's Democratic Party had publicly criticised them for human rights violations and had even suggested dismantling them once it came to power.

That has not happened as yet and now it may be politically difficult for such a radical step to be taken.

Congress worry

The PDP's coalition partner, India's main opposition Congress Party, will also be keen on deflecting criticism that it is soft on terrorism.

Congress leader Sonia Gandhi during a visit to the Raghunath temple
Attacks could influence Congress Party fortunes
The party faces crucial elections in the western state of Gujarat, which earlier this year witnessed some of the worst religious violence in India.

The Congress is hoping to take on the BJP and cannot be seen to be pursuing policies in Kashmir that could be exploited in Gujarat.

Congress leader Sonia Gandhi was quick to visit Jammu on Monday where she strongly defended the move to release political prisoners in Kashmir.

"The Kashmir Government has released 26 rebels only after taking clearance from central intelligence agencies," she said.


Monday's violence may also heighten tensions between nuclear neighbours India and Pakistan, after a recent thaw.

Ealier in the year, the two countries came close to an all-out war over Kashmir, leading to massive efforts by the international community to get them to back off.

Pakistan's new civilian government is only a few days old, but will already have to move quickly to keep pace in the blame game that is a regular feature of South Asian diplomacy.

India has lost little time in pointing out that the stepped-up violence in Kashmir comes just days after the head of the outlawed Lashkar-e-Toiba militant group was released from detention.

It is unlikely that the rhetoric will translate into any military moves along the international border, just weeks after both sides began scaling back its troops.

But it probably rules out any immediate political meeting-ground between India and Pakistan.

The BBC's Adam Mynott
"The finger of blame has been pointed at a militant organisation, Lashkar-e-Toiba"
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See also:

21 Nov 02 | South Asia
23 Nov 02 | South Asia
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