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India Promises to Build Infrastructure in Jammu and Kashmir

India's ruling Congress party president Sonia Gandhi, addresses a dinner to mark the government's second anniversary in New Delhi, India, May 22, 2011

Indian leaders are promising to build new infrastructure and focus on economic development in insurgency-wracked Jammu and Kashmir State. The commitment came at the start of a project to build a new bridge in the Himalayan region, where despite a waning separatist insurgency, clashes continue.

A large crowd looked on in the remote hill town of Basholi as Congress Party leader Sonia Gandhi inaugurated a project Monday to build a 592-meter-long bridge over the Ravi River.

The bridge will improve connectivity between the northern Jammu and Kashmir state and the neighboring states of Punjab and Himachal Pradesh. This is aimed at boosting tourism, which is an economic mainstay of the scenic Himalayan region.

Defense Minister A.K. Antony, who attended the ceremony, says Jammu and Kashmir, also known as J and K, will be the government’s “undivided priority”. “The development of infrastructure will ensure accelerated economic progress not only for state of J and K, but also our nation,” said Antony.

Gandhi commended the large turnout by Kashmiris in ongoing local elections that are being held in phases, calling it a vote for democracy, peace and development.

She also announced a plan to improve employment opportunities for young Kashmiris.

Gandhi says the government will provide training facilities to 100,000 young people over the next three to five years. She says this will improve their prospects of finding jobs throughout the country.

Local authorities in Kashmir have been asking the federal government to focus on economic development in the region, which witnessed violent protests last year led by stone-pelting Kashmiri youth. The street violence was blamed on popular anger at alleged abuses by Indian troops, and frustration at a lack of economic opportunities.

Although a two-decade-long violent separatist insurgency led by Islamic militant groups has waned, Kashmir continues to be a restive region, and is guarded by tens of thousands of soldiers.

Gandhi says the federal government will not compromise with terrorism, but has kept the doors open to explore peace with Pakistan.

India’s tensions with Pakistan have been fueled by their conflicting claims over Kashmir, which is divided between them.

The heavily-guarded Kashmir border has been relatively calm in recent years, but sporadic incidents are still reported. Earlier this month, an Indian soldier was reportedly killed in a cross border firing incident between Indian and Pakistani troops.