India hunts Kashmir militants after Hindu pilgrim attack

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An Indian security officer in Kashmir: soldier and police on Monday hunted militants who ambushed a bus carrying Hindu pilgrams a day earlier. – AFP photo

NEW DELHI (June 11): Soldiers in India-administered Kashmir carried out a large-scale manhunt on Monday, the government said, a day after nine Hindu pilgrims were killed in one of the deadliest recent attacks on civilians.

Around an hour before Hindu-nationalist Prime Minister Narendra Modi was sworn in for a third term in the capital New Delhi on Sunday evening, gunmen in Kashmir ambushed the bus packed with Hindu pilgrims celebrating after visiting a popular shrine.

Indian media reported that the attackers fired on the bus, shooting 10 people and with at least one child among the dead.

The bus then swerved off the mountain road into a ravine, with dozens injured.

Soldiers and police officers were searching the Reasi area in the south of the disputed territory.

Kashmir’s top political official Manoj Sinha said the joint “operation is in progress to neutralise the perpetrators” who carried out the attack, announcing $12,000 in compensation for each of the families of those killed.

Top government official Amit Shah — interior minister in the previous government, and who took the oath of office shortly after Modi — warned that the gunmen would “face the wrath of the law”.

“The culprits of this dastardly attack will not be spared,” Shah said on social media late Sunday.

– ‘Shameful’ –

Kashmir has been divided between India and Pakistan since their independence in 1947, and both claim the high-altitude territory in full.

Rebel groups have waged an insurgency since 1989, demanding independence or a merger with Pakistan.

The conflict has left tens of thousands of civilians, soldiers, and rebels dead.

Violence and anti-India protests have drastically fallen since 2019, when Modi’s government cancelled the region’s limited autonomy.

Opposition leader Rahul Gandhi called the attack “shameful” in a post on social media, saying that it revealed the “true picture of the worrying security situation in Jammu and Kashmir”.

Five rebels and an Indian air force corporal were killed in clashes since election campaigning began in the territory in April, until voting ended this month.

Two suspected rebels were also killed in a firefight with soldiers on June 3.

But the vote saw a 58.6 percent turnout, according to the election commission, a 30-percentage-point jump from the last vote in 2019 and the highest in 35 years.

No separatist group called for a boycott of the election — a first since the armed revolt against Indian rule erupted in the territory in 1989.

India regularly accuses Pakistan of supporting and arming the rebels, a charge Islamabad denies. – AFP