India and Pakistan traded angry accusations of unprovoked deadly violations of their border truce in the disputed Himalayan region of Kashmir, casting a shadow over moves to improve ties between the rivals.
India’s army said a Pakistani strike on a patrol yesterday near the Line of Control dividing Kashmir killed two of its soldiers. In a statement, the foreign ministry said the bodies of the two men were “subjected to barbaric and inhuman mutilation.” The Times of India newspaper reported one was beheaded. Foreign Minister Salman Khurshid called for an “appropriate response” from Pakistan, stressing that the neighbours musn’t allow the situation to escalate.
Pakistan’s military, which earlier had said one of its soldiers died repelling a Jan. 6 Indian raid along the mountainous de facto border, and its foreign ministry in Islamabad denied involvement. A ministry statement rejected what it called “baseless and unfounded allegations.” It offered to invite UN observers to investigate.
While cross-border skirmishes between the two countries, which resumed their peace talks in 2011 after a three year snapping of ties over the Mumbai terrorist attack, are not rare, a truce in place since 2003 has reduced violence. The two nations have fought three wars since their independence from British colonial rule in 1947, two of them over claims to Kashmir.
The border clashes are “a kind of bump on the way but both countries realize that reversing this peace process would cost them a lot,” Rashid Khan, a professor of politics and international relations, said by phone from the University of Sargodha in central Pakistan. “India is benefiting from almost zero infiltration of fighters from the Pakistani side of Kashmir, while Pakistan is overwhelmed by its own internal issues. Both countries will salvage this ceasefire.”
Independent verification of military action in Kashmir is difficult given the terrain and intense security presence. The government in New Delhi says Pakistan continues to aid anti- India militants seeking to cross into the Indian-held portion of Kashmir, where an insurgency that erupted in 1989 has since ebbed.
The two nations, both with nuclear arsenals and key roles in regional security policy as the Obama administration pulls its troops out of a decade-old war with the Taliban in nearby Afghanistan, gave conflicting accounts of the two recent reported clashes.
India’s defence ministry accused Pakistan of “a provocative action” yesterday in a statement issued in New Delhi. It said the Pakistani soldiers crossed into Indian territory, carried out the attack and then retreated across the frontier.
A text message sent to reporters by the media unit of Pakistan’s army denied Indian allegations of unprovoked firing, calling them propaganda to divert attention from the death of the Pakistani soldier on Jan. 6. India says its forces responded to Pakistani shelling at the weekend, and troops did not cross the frontier.
Yesterday’s strike was a “significant escalation to the continuing series of ceasefire violations and infiltration attempts supported by Pakistan army,” the Indian army’s Northern Command said in a statement. “The fire fight between Pakistan and our own troops continued for approximately half an hour after which the intruders retreated toward their side of LoC.”
Defense Minister A.K. Antony called the attack “highly objectionable.”
Both countries have summoned the other’s diplomats to protest the casualties. Pakistan’s High Commissioner Salman Bashir was called to the Ministry of External Affairs today where Foreign Secretary Ranjan Mathai lodged a protest.
Senior military officers from both countries talked today on a pre-existing hotline, Pakistan’s army said in a statement, adding that its ground checks and verification found Indian claims of a cross-border strike were incorrect.
While India continues to press Pakistan to pursue the militants responsible for the raid on its financial capital of Mumbai in 2008, the two countries have eased visa restrictions and taken steps to raise cross-border commerce. Sports ties have also resumed, with Pakistan’s cricket team touring India this month.