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India and Pakistan's simmering conflict in Kashmir boiled over this week as Indian soldiers exchanged fire with rebels from the terrorist group behind last year's Mumbai attacks. The exchange came also as Indian officials alleged that Pakistan is sending captured Taliban militants to fight in the disputed Himalayan territory, giving them the option of "jail or jihad."
Indian troops on Wednesday shot dead seven rebels, four of whom were from the Lashkar-e-Taiba (LeT), Reuters reported. One of the slain militants was identified as top LeT commander Abu Hamza, according to the News Agency of Kashmir.
The group was behind attacks that killed at least 166 people in the Indian financial capital in November. Last month, senior Australian official John Brumby canceled a trip to Mumbai after the Ausitralian government said there was reason to believe there could be more terrorist attacks there this fall, the Financial Times reported.
India is growing more concerned about Taliban infiltration after intelligence suggested Paksitan may be offering captured militants the option of fighting in Kashmir instead of going to prison, Britain's Telegraph reported.
[Indian officials] alleged 60 Taliban fighters captured in the Pakistan army's offensive to re-assert government rule in the Swat Valley earlier this year had accepted the deal and were now waiting with an estimated 300 jihadi fighters to cross into Kashmir.
Indian officials are now braced for a series of incursions and border battles in the next two to three weeks as the militants make their move.
Officials said the militants were offered a "jail or jihad" choice by senior officers of Pakistan's ISI intelligence service and that the plot had been discovered in a series of intercepted telephone conversations.
Indian Defense Minister A.K. Antony accused Pakistan of being unwilling to take action against terrorists infiltrating Jammu and Kashmir from its side of the border, Indian Express reported.
"The main thing is, even after [the Mumbai attacks], Pakistan is not willing to take strong action against these infiltrators," Antony told reporters here on the sidelines of Defence Accounts Department headquarters building inauguration.
Noting that all these terrorist camps were near to their army formation, he said if they are sincere they can control it.
"By and large, they are always trying to push maximum number of people into Jammu and Kashmir," he said to a query on reports of a large number of ex-Taliban members waiting to infiltrate from across the border with Pakistan.
Instability appears to be growing in Kashmir, a predominantly Muslim region that has been the largest flashpoint between the South Asian neighbors since the end of British rule. Protests against the house arrest of a separatist leader turned violent over the weekend in the northern town of Baramulla after a 12-year-old boy was allegedly killed by a police tear-gas shell, the Press Trust of India reported.
A July editorial by The Christian Science Monitor said "the Pakistan-India rivalry is central to removing the threat of Islamist terrorism from this region, including Afghanistan." Tension with India has "distracted the Pakistan government from fully facing down Islamist extremists at home," the editorial said.