India says arrests Pakistan soldier, Islamabad denies

SRINAGAR, India (Reuters) – Indian police said on Tuesday they had arrested three militants, one of them a Pakistani soldier, for allegedly planning a suicide attack in Indian-controlled Kashmir.

Pakistan’s army, however, denied the arrested man was a serving soldier.

The arrests came as India deployed thousands of troops in the main city of Kashmir, a day before a crucial last phase of state polls on Wednesday.

Muslim-majority Srinagar, Kashmir’s summer capital and the heart of a nearly 20-year-old separatist campaign against Indian rule, goes to the polls on Wednesday as does the Hindu-majority city of Jammu, the state’s winter capital.

Police said they had been conducting raids in the entire state over the past few days to thwart trouble ahead of the polls.

During the raids, they arrested three members of the banned Pakistan-based Jaish-e-Mohammad militant group on suspicion of planning suicide bombings in Kashmir during polling.

“One of the three has been identified as Ghulam Farid alias Gulshan Kumar, a sepoy (soldier) of the Pakistan Army,” Kashmir police director general Kuldeep Khuda told a news conference.

A Pakistan military official said Farid deserted army in 2006 from the central city of Okara.

“He’s certainly not an army employee and his unit was not deployed at the Line of Control when he deserted the army,” a military official said on condition of anonymity.

“Indians might have apprehended Ghulam Farid sometime back and now staging this drama because of current situation,” he added.

On Monday, two policemen were killed when suspected separatist militants fired at a police patrol in north Kashmir.

Kashmiri separatists, many of them in jail, have called for a boycott of the seven-stage polls saying India portrays voting as an endorsement of its rule over the disputed Himalayan region.

But a high turnout in the six rounds of the election has encouraged Indian authorities despite the scattered clashes between anti-poll protesters and government forces.

On Tuesday, thousands of police and soldiers armed with assault rifles patrolled deserted streets in Srinagar and warned residents to stay indoors.

Shops, businesses government offices and banks remained closed in the Muslim-majority Valley, due to security restrictions.

“They have converted Srinagar city into a large military camp,” 45-year-old shopkeeper, Mohammad Issac said. “It is worse than a curfew.”

But overall violence has fallen significantly across Kashmir since India and Pakistan began peace talks in 2004.

Those talks stalled after last month’s attacks in Mumbai that killed 179 people and which India blames on militant groups based in Pakistan.

Officials say more than 47,000 people have been killed in nearly two decades of violence, involving Indian troops and Muslim militants in Kashmir, which was hit by massive anti-India protests earlier this year.

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