- The Washington Times - Saturday, September 14, 2002

SRINAGAR, India The assassination this week of a Kashmiri minister has fueled fears that it may be the beginning of a series of attacks on high-profile targets by Islamic militants opposed to legislative elections that start Monday.
Mushtaq Ahmed Lone, the law and parliamentary affairs minister of Jammu and Kashmir state and a candidate in the election, was killed while addressing an election rally in the border district of Kupwara on Wednesday. Militants triggered a land-mine blast, and sprayed him and six of his followers with bullets from automatic weapons.
The Pakistan-based militant group Lashkar-e-Taiba claimed responsibility for the attack. The group is also believed to be behind at least 30 election-related instances of violence in the area in the past five weeks.
Mr. Lone is the second candidate to be killed since the campaign began last month. Last week, Islamic guerillas fatally shot Sheik Abdul Rahman, a nominee of the Bahujan Samaj Party, which represents India's lower castes. In that one week, three other candidates from the ruling National Conference party and one from the Congress party escaped attacks by militants.
In New Delhi, Deputy Prime Minister Lal Krishna Advani condemned the violence.
"They are attacks intended to subvert the will of the people who would exercise their right of franchise to elect a new assembly and a new government," he said.
Islamic militants who are fighting to carve out an independent state of Kashmir or its merger into Pakistan, reject Indian control of the only Muslim-majority state. A coalition of separatist parties has called for a boycott of the elections, which will be held in four phases from Monday to Oct. 8.
A pro-Pakistan group of Jamiat-ul-Mujahideen had set a deadline of this past Tuesday for all candidates to withdraw from the race or face the consequences. The day after the deadline, the militants killed Mr. Lone.
The killing of Mr. Lone, who always traveled with at least 20 heavily armed security guards, was seen as a warning to other candidates.
In the past four weeks, Islamic militants have turned up in many frontier villages and threatened the villagers with "dire consequences" if they cast their votes. They even destroyed the villagers' voter-identification cards.
The anti-election campaign is most severe in the districts close to the Pakistani border, where militants have threatened to behead all "traitors" candidates and voters if they do not stay away from the polls.
Eight Muslim villagers were abducted by suspected Lashkar-e-Taiba militants near the border town of Rajouri last month, and their beheaded bodies were found the next morning. A note left near the bodies said the victims had helped the security forces "cleanse" the area in advance of the elections.
A couple of days later, militants killed two children of a local election official and three relatives of a police officer deployed on election-security detail.
More than 300 people, including about 160 rebels, have been killed in Indian Kashmir since New Delhi announced the elections in early August.
In this climate of fear, voter turnout is bound to be extremely low, said Kamal Saini, police chief of the border district of Poonch.
"The brutality of the executions is aimed at intimidating the voters who enthusiastically took part in previous election," he said.


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