By Fayaz Bukhari
Gunmen wearing army uniforms on Thursday attacked an Indian army base near the border with Pakistan, leaving ten people dead in the worst militant violence in the disputed state of Kashmir in more than a year.
The incident came as Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Pakistani counterpart Nawaz Sharif had a brief meeting at a summit of South Asian leaders in Nepal that clinched a deal to create a regional electricity grid.
Four or five gunmen split into two groups upon arriving in the town of Arnia, about 4 km from the border, with one group attacking an army bunker and the other holed up in a house, a senior army officer said.
Three soldiers and three civilians were shot dead, said Jammu and Kashmir Chief Minister Omar Abdullah, adding, “My condolences to the families.”
He said four militants were also killed.
India and Pakistan fought two of their three wars since independence in 1947 over Muslim-majority Kashmir, which they both claim in full but rule in part.
Muslim separatists have been fighting Indian forces in the Indian portion of Kashmir since 1989. India accuses Pakistan of training and arming the rebels in the portion it controls and sending them to the Indian side, a claim its neighbour denies.
The gunmen did not infiltrate from the Pakistani side of the border, a senior Border Security Force official said.
“They came in a car to Arnia and took shelter in a bunker and targeted the army,” he said.
The last major attack in Kashmir was in September last year, when nine people were killed in a gun battle a day after the leaders of the two countries agreed to meet on the sidelines of the U.N. General Assembly in New York.
The incident comes a day ahead of a visit planned by Modi to Jammu, where he will address two election rallies amid phased state polls that conclude on Dec 20.
The attack was a deliberate attempt to disrupt ties between the rivals, Abdullah said on social media website Twitter.
“Some things never change,” he added. “Ind & Pak PMs at the same venue and a fierce encounter breaks out.”