Run-Up To Kashmir Elections Provides New Opportunities For Terrorists

By Deepak Mahaan | July 7, 2008 | 8:12 PM EDT

New Delhi ( - Indian security agencies say they have intercepted messages from terrorist groups revealing plans "to kill one political leader a day" in the run-up to forthcoming elections in the Indian-ruled portion of disputed Kashmir.

The development comes soon after the murder of nine Hindu pilgrims ambushed near Srinagar, the capital of India's Jammu and Kashmir state, while on their way to a shrine in the Himalayas.

Indian authorities fear Muslim militants may try to whip up passions by targeting specific communities.

Pakistan-based militant groups have always tried to impede elections for the legislative assembly in Kashmir, but this year's poll comes at a time tensions between India and Pakistan are already especially high.

India's Kashmir state has its own legislature and government with responsibility for most areas, although not for defense and foreign affairs.

Kashmir, a majority Muslim territory divided between India and Pakistan, has been a bone of contention between the neighbors since 1947 as fundamentalist groups want it to be a separate Islamic state or fall under Muslim Pakistan.

India has accused successive governments in Islamabad of training and supporting the militants.

India has in turn been accused of human rights violations against Kashmiri Muslims.

Nonetheless, a recent poll conducted by an independent British agency found more than 61 percent of Muslims in Kashmir favor remaining under Indian rule.

Inter-communal relations are not always as bad as generally painted. Survivors of this week's attack on Hindu pilgrims reported they received help and even blood donations from their "Muslim brethren."

The infiltration of terrorists and attacks on Indian targets brought India and Pakistan to the brink of war in recent months, although intensive diplomatic efforts spearheaded by Washington helped ease tensions.

Large numbers of troops from both countries remain deployed along their joint borders.

With the latest killings, however, the level of rhetoric has risen once again.

Leading political parties in Hindu-majority India denounced what they said was an "attack on democracy."

A radical Hindu group urged the government to "stop playing politics" and destroy terrorist training camps located in Pakistan.

Kashmir's chief minister, Farooq Abdullah, agreed that the destruction of terrorist bases across the border was "the only option" if terror is to be uprooted.

"Despite adequate security measures, militants always have an edge as they choose the place of their attack," he said.

The Indian government warned Islamabad not to interpret its restraint as a sign of weakness, while Pakistani authorities - while condemning the attack - denied involvement.

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