Islamic militants kill local government minister in Indian-controlled Kashmir

Islamic militants shot and killed a local government minister in Indian-controlled Kashmir on Tuesday, part of a surge of recent violence that has dampened hopes for a new era of peace and cooperation in the disputed province following the massive earthquake that devastated the area on Oct. 8.

Ghulam Nabi Lone, education minister of India's Jammu and Kashmir state, was shot inside his home in the highly protected Tulsi Bagh neighborhood in the state's summer capital of Srinagar. His killing came just days after 10 members of two Hindu families were slain by militants in another part of the state.

People on both the Pakistani and Indian sides of Kashmir had hoped for a lull in violence in the aftermath of the earthquake, which caused the heaviest damage in the part of the province controlled by Pakistan. The region has been plagued by violence since separatists based in Pakistan launched an insurgency against Indian forces in 1989.

In Pakistani Kashmir, militants have pitched in with relief efforts, and several days ago, the United Jihad Council, an umbrella organization for militant groups in Kashmir, announced that its members were responding to the earthquake with a temporary cessation of violence.

Similarly, many Kashmiris have been urging India and Pakistan to use the earthquake relief effort as an opportunity to build on their two-year peace process, perhaps by permitting aid operations across the Line of Control, the heavily fortified cease-fire line that separates their forces in Kashmir.

The earthquake brought a slight softening of positions on both sides. Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh offered condolences in a phone call to Gen. Pervez Musharraf, Pakistan's president, and India has provided Pakistan with blankets, tents medicine and fortified biscuits.

On Tuesday, Musharraf proposed an easing of restrictions on movement across the Line of Control for Kashmiris involved in relief work. "We will allow every Kashmiri to come across the Line of Control and assist in the reconstruction effort," Musharraf said at a news conference. "We would also like to facilitate the political leaders on both sides to go across and interact with each other and assist each other in whatever reconstruction effort," he said. India welcomed the proposal, the Reuters news agency reported, reports the Washington Post. I.L.

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