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Last Updated: Tuesday, 2 September, 2003, 16:18 GMT 17:18 UK
Analysis: Kashmir's rising violence

By Altaf Hussain
BBC correspondent in Srinagar

When Indian Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee offered the hand of friendship to Pakistan in a speech in Srinagar last April, the Pakistan Government lost no time in welcoming it.

Mr Vajpayee made no secret of his surprise at the strength of Pakistan's response.

The Pakistanis welcomed his offer "without going through the whole text of my statement wherein I had said that they had certain responsibilities too," the Indian leader observed.

Family evacuated from close to Srinagar gunbattle
A family is taken to safety away from a gun battle in Srinagar
At that time, the war in Iraq was drawing to a close.

Observers say Pakistan feared that the United States might then turn its attention there, regardless of Islamabad's support in the global fight against terrorism.

As India and Pakistan went about rebuilding mutual confidence as preparation for the resumption of talks, reports came in that the Pakistani authorities had imposed restrictions on militant groups based in Muzaffarabad, the capital of Pakistan-administered Kashmir.

Militant commanders dismissed such reports, but it was clear that the level of violence in Indian-administered Kashmir came down drastically.

At the same time, the militants lay low for a couple of months, seldom issuing any statements.

Complaint to UN

But the sequence of developments ahead of Mr Vajpayee's visit to Kashmir last week suggests that neither Pakistan nor the militants are any longer on the defensive.

Pakistan shot off a letter to the United Nations, complaining that India was shying away from talks and doing little to carry the peace process forward.

Bus wreckage after suspected militant attack
Militants were blamed for this bus attack

A front-ranking militant group, Hizbul Mujahideen, gave a strong rebuff to the political separatist alliance, the All Party Hurriyat Conference after its chairman, Molvi Abbas Ansari had offered to take part in bilateral talks with India, to the exclusion of Pakistan.

Hizbul Mujahideen also rejected Mr Ansari's call for a fresh cease-fire in Kashmir.

The Muzaffarabad-based alliance of militant groups, the United Jihad Council, proclaimed the hardlinder, Syed Ali Shah Geelani, to be the "leader of the freedom struggle."

It has come as no surprise then, that the militants have stepped up their attacks Indian-administered Kashmir, including here in the capital, Srinagar, where there have been three gun battles over the past week.

A prominent journalist and political analyst, Nizamuddin Bhat, says that the "Indian Government provoked the militants by projecting their tactical silence as their defeat."

Ironically, the security forces have lately helped the cause of militants by encouraging a couple of television channels to give live coverage to the latest clashes in Srinagar.

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