Two days before the inauguration of new bus service between the Indian and Pakistani sides of Kashmir, a bomb has exploded along the planned route, injuring three people, and two other bombs have been found and defused. The explosion followed threats of violence by Muslim militants against passengers planning to take the inaugural trip.
Officials say police had already defused two bombs placed along the highway outside Kashmir's summer capital, Srinigar, when the third one exploded, injuring nearby civilians.
The two defused bombs weighed more than 60 kilograms each, and officials say they could have caused extensive injuries and damage had they also gone off.
Hundreds of Indian security personnel have been deployed along the highway linking Srinigar, in Indian-controlled Kashmir, to Muzaffarabad, the capital of Pakistani-controlled Kashmir. Militants have threatened to attack the bus during its historic inaugural run between the cities on Thursday.
No civilians have traveled along this route since 1947, when India and Pakistan won independence from their colonial ruler, Britain, and then fought the first of their two wars over control of the border territory.
The bus link is intended to re-unite families separated by decades of politics. It is also seen as a key step toward healing decades of hostilities between the two countries.
Since 1989 a handful of Islamic militant groups have fought for Kashmir to become independent or to merge with predominantly Muslim Pakistan. With the opening of the bus route coming on the top of other so-called "confidence-building" moves between Pakistan and India, the militants apparently feel their movement is under threat.
Bharat Karnad is an analyst with the Center for Policy Research, a New Delhi-based think-tank.
"Once people get their free access and they can freely move from one territory to another, meet the families and so on, the great incentive and motivation is gone to risk their lives to fight for some notion of jihad that some groups may propound," he said.
Officials say most of the 24 passengers expected to take the maiden voyage of the bus are now in protective custody because of threats made by several militant groups against them and their families. Authorities have also detained hundreds of suspected militants.
Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh is expected to launch the bus leaving Srinigar on Thursday. Officials also say they are planning celebrations to welcome the bus coming in the other direction, from the Pakistani to the Indian side.