Four coordinated attacks by heavily armed militants left 21 people dead in the India-controlled portion of Kashmir on Friday, just three days before a campaign stop planned by Prime Minister Narendra Modi, Indian news media reported.
The deadly assaults blamed on Pakistani militants who lay claim to the disputed territory risked discouraging voter turnout in a region that is in the midst of a four-phase state election that had so far drawn a record share of Kashmir voters, the news reports noted.
The strikes by gunmen in traditional Pakistani garments began before dawn with a raid on an Indian army artillery base near Uri, where 11 members of Indian security forces were killed, including a local police commander summoned to help put down the attack. All six militants were killed in the eight-hour battle, India's Telegraph newspaper reported.
A three-hour gun battle ensued after two militants, both later killed in the fighting, fired on a police checkpoint in Soura, in central Srinagar, according to the newspaper. In Tral, in the south of Kashmir, attackers threw a grenade into a bus, killing two civilians and injuring a dozen. Another grenade attack in Shopian caused only property damage, the Times of India reported.
The newspaper said the attacks appeared to be "aimed at disrupting the state elections, which have so far witnessed record voter turnouts." Campaigning and balloting in the state of Jammu and Kashmir wraps up with a Tuesday vote in Tral and Uri and a Dec. 14 ballot in Srinagar. Two previous rounds saw 70% turnout in a mostly peaceful and at times festive atmosphere, according to state officials.
The Telegraph quoted an unnamed minister in the Cabinet of Kashmir leader Omar Abdullah as saying "hope has evaporated" that the high participation seen so far in the votes for state assembly members would encourage residents of the more troubled areas of Kashmir hit Friday to show up and cast their ballots.
Abdullah's National Conference party has governed Indian-controlled Kashmir for most of the 67 years since the partitioning of the British Indian Empire. Modi's Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party occupied only a small fraction of the 87-seat assembly after the 2008 state elections but made significant advances in this year's general elections that brought him to power.
India and Pakistan both lay claim to the entire Kashmir region, most of which is controlled by India. Three wars have been fought over Kashmir between the nuclear-armed neighbors since the 1947 partitioning.