SAMBA, Held Kashmir - Kashmiri fighters dressed in Indian army uniforms attacked Indian police and soldiers near the Line of Control on Thursday, killing nine people and triggering calls for talks between the prime ministers of the rival nations to be called off.
Just a day before the twin assault in the disputed Indian-occupied Kashmir, Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh said he would meet his Pakistan counterpart, Nawaz Sharif, on the sidelines of the UN General Assembly on the weekend.
The leaders of the nuclear-armed neighbours are expected to discuss rising violence in Kashmir. Indian-held Kashmir’s chief minister said the assault was an attempt to derail the talks.
A group of three gunmen attacked a police station in the morning, about 10 km from the border with Pakistan, killing five policemen. They then hijacked a truck and raided an army camp, security forces said. One civilian was killed.
The attackers killed three soldiers at the camp, near the town of Samba, where a fierce gunbattle with soldiers took place and Indian tanks were deployed, eyewitnesses and police said.
While helicopters hovered overhead, a Reuters witness heard sporadic explosions and gunfire as Indian forces closed in on, and eventually killed, the gunmen who were holed up in a building.
“All the three militants have been killed in the Samba army camp operation. Three army men including a lieutenant colonel rank officer are dead,” said army spokesman Rajesh Kalia.
India’s state-run television news channel quoted interior minister Sushilkumar Shinde as saying the militants had entered from Pakistan.
In a separate incident, the Indian army said it had killed at least a dozen militants from a group of 30 it said had crossed over from Pakistan into northern Kashmir. Lieutenant General Gurmeet Singh said that operation was still going on.
Immediately after the attack in Samba, politicians from India’s nationalist opposition party called for the cancellation of the weekend talks. They will be the first between the two leaders since Nawaz Sharif was re-elected in May following an election campaign in which he called for better ties with India.
While Prime Minister Singh strongly condemned what he called a ‘heinous terrorist attack’ he suggested the meeting with Nawaz Sharif, expected on Sunday, would go ahead.
“This is one more in a series of provocations and barbaric actions by the enemies of peace,” Singh said in a statement. “Such attacks will not deter us and will not succeed in derailing our efforts to find a resolution to all problems through a process of dialogue.”
Yashwant Sinha, a leader of the Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party, the main opposition party, said there was no point talking to Pakistan if it was unable to prevent such attacks on India.
“We are not going to achieve anything and therefore I have no hesitation in saying that the prime minister should call off the talks ... I insist he should call off the talks even at this stage.” he said.
Pakistan denies arming or training militants, but says it offers moral support to the people of Kashmir who it says face rights abuses by Indian forces.
Indian Home Minister Sushilkumar Shinde said the militants carried out the latest attacks after crossing the border on Thursday morning, in a reference to Pakistan.
“Four policemen and two civilians were killed by the militants in the attack on the police station,” police official Prasad said. Two other policemen and a civilian were injured in the attack.
A senior army officer, who did not want to be named, said four soldiers, including an officer, were then killed in the gunbattle inside the army base.
A witness said the militants targeted the cleaner of the truck as they fled the police station. “They asked him where the driver was. They then killed the cleaner and asked the driver to drive them off,” said the man, who did not give his name.
Local English-language newspaper The Kashmir Monitor said it had received a call by satellite phone from a previously unknown group called Shouhda Brigade (‘Martyrs Brigade’) which claimed responsibility.
The group said three Kashmiri fightrers were involved and they had killed 15 people. None of these claims could be independently verified by AFP.
Meanwhile, Pakistan on Thursday condemned the terror attacks in Held Kashmir and said it was imperative that senseless act of violence do not deter the two countries from pursuing a path to a better future for their peoples.
“Terrorism is a pernicious evil. Pakistan has been its foremost victim. We are committed to leaving no stone unturned to eliminate the spectre of terrorist violence from our society and our region,” a statement from the Pakistan High Commission said in New Delhi.
It said Pakistan strongly condemns terrorism in all its forms and manifestations.
“Our hearts go out in sympathy to the families of all those who fell victim to the acts of terrorist violence in Jammu today.
“It is imperative that senseless act of violence do not deter us from pursuing a path to a better future for our peoples,” it added.