Top elected pro-India Kashmiri leader dies at age 79

NEW DELHI: A top elected pro-India leader of Kashmir, who tried to win over insurgent groups in the troubled region, died Thursday in a New Delhi hospital of pneumonia, his party leader said. He was 79.

Mufti Mohammed Sayeed, who took over as the top elected official of the region in March last year, was hospitalised two weeks ago in the Indian capital.

His death was announced by party leader and Kashmir state Education Minister Nayeem Akhter.

Sayeed is survived by his wife, three daughters and a son. Mehbooba Mufti, one of his daughters, is expected to succeed him as the chief minister of the Indian portion of Kashmir.

His body will be taken to Srinagar, the main city in Kashmir, and buried in his ancestral village, said Akhter.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi said that Sayeed "provided a healing touch to Kashmir through his leadership."

India and Pakistan have fought two wars over control of Kashmir, the Himalayan region that has been divided between them since 1947.

Mufti advocated a dialogue with Pakistan to settle the dispute, and sought to promote trade and travel between Kashmiris on both sides.

At the start of insurgency in the Indian portion of Kashmir in 1989, rebels abducted one of Sayeed's daughters. He was India's home minister then.

His daughter was later freed in exchange for the Indian government releasing five militants from prison.

Sayeed became the chief minister, with the Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party as a junior partner, after no single party won a clear majority in state elections.