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Pakistani violence spreads to Kashmir
Fri Jun 26, 2009 11:06am EDT
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By Abu Arqam Naqash
MUZAFFARABAD, Pakistan (Reuters) - Two soldiers were killed on Friday in the first suicide bombing in Pakistani Kashmir, while three people were killed and seven wounded in two bomb blasts in a militant-infested areas near the Afghan border.
Islamist militants have carried out a series of bomb attacks across Pakistan in recent weeks in retaliation for a military offensive in the northwest, but there have been none in Pakistan's part of the disputed Kashmir region.
The army launched its offensive after Taliban gains raised fears for U.S. ally Pakistan's future and worry about the safety of its nuclear arsenal.
The blast in Muzaffarabad, capital of Pakistani Kashmir, will raise concern that the militants are expanding their campaign to distract the military as it closes in on Pakistani Taliban chief Baitullah Mehsud in South Waziristan on the Afghan border.
"The bomber blew himself up near a military vehicle. Two of our soldiers embraced martyrdom," a military spokesman told Reuters. Three soldiers were wounded in the attack.
Kashmir is at the core of a decades-old dispute between Pakistan and India and the cause of two of their three wars since their independence from British rule in 1947.
Separatist insurgents backed by Pakistan have been fighting Indian security forces in India's part of the Himalayan region for the past 20 years, but Pakistani Kashmir had been peaceful.
Analysts say the Muzaffarabad attack showed the militants widening the conflict as government forces prepared for an assault on their stronghold.
"It may be a sign of desperation at a time when they are coming under tremendous pressure because of the offensive," said retired general Talat Masood. "It also shows they want to widen the conflict and hit the army wherever it is."
The United States has hailed Pakistan's action against the militants and on Wednesday the U.S. Senate approved tripling aid to Pakistan to about $1.5 billion a year for five years as part of a U.S. plan to fight extremism with economic development.
U.S. President Barack Obama has put Afghanistan and Pakistan at the center of his foreign policy agenda and has launched a strategy aimed at defeating al Qaeda and stabilizing Afghanistan, where thousands of extra U.S. soldiers are arriving.
AL QAEDA ALLY
Prime Minister Yusuf Raza Gilani appealed on Thursday to visiting U.S. National Security Adviser Jim Jones for U.S. help to resolve the dispute with India over Muslim-majority Kashmir.
India broke off talks with Pakistan after militant attacks on the city of Mumbai in November. India blamed the attacks on Pakistan-based militants and wants Pakistan to act against them.
The United States is pushing for an easing of tension between the rivals so Pakistan can focus on fighting the Taliban. Continued...
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