Tensions rise as Kashmir ceasefire broken

Pakistan and India traded accusations of violating the cease-fire in the disputed northern region of Kashmir yesterday, with Islamabad accusing Indian troops of a cross-border raid that killed one of its soldiers and India claiming that Pakistani shelling destroyed a home on its side.

The accusation of a border crossing resulting in military deaths is unusual in Kashmir, where a ceasefire has held between the two wary, nuclear-armed rivals for a decade. Tensions over the disputed region are never far from the surface, however, as the countries have fought two full-scale wars over it.

Pakistan and India have been in the midst of a tentative rapprochement in recent months that could be upset by the cross-border raid. Just last month, the two countries announced a new visa regime designed to make cross-border travel easier. They have also been taking steps to facilitate economic trade. Neither action would have been possible without the backing of Pakistan’s powerful military.

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The developments show how tensions have eased a great deal since the 2008 Mumbai terror attacks, in which 10 Pakistani terrorists killed 166 people. India claims the terrorists had ties to Pakistani intelligence officials, which Islamabad denies.

The Pakistani military’s public relations office said in a statement that a Pakistani soldier was also critically wounded in the incident. It said troops exchanged gunfire after Indian forces crossed the “line of control” dividing the Indian and Pakistani sides of Kashmir in the Haji Pir sector and raided a post called Sawan Patra.

The remote area where the incident occurred is up in the Himalayan mountain peaks. The closest town of Bagh, about 30 miles away, is itself about 160 miles from the Pakistani capital of Islamabad.

Colonel Brijesh Pandey, a spokesman for the Indian army in Kashmir, called the allegations that Indian troops crossed the border “baseless.” Instead, he said that Pakistani troops “initiated unprovoked firing” and fired mortars and automatic weapons at Indian posts yesterday. He said Pakistani shelling had destroyed a civilian home on the Indian side.

“We retaliated only using small arms. We believe it was clearly an attempt on their part to facilitate infiltration of militants,” Col Pandey said.

The mostly-Muslim mountainous Kashmir region has been a flashpoint of violence between these two neighbours for decades. Both claim the entire region as their own, and the countries fought two full-scale wars over control of Kashmir and some minor skirmishes.

On Saturday, leaders of a Pakistan-based militant coalition held a rally in the city of Muzaffarabad near Kashmir, in which they pledged to continue the fight to gain control of the 
entire region.

The United Jihad Council is a coalition of 12 anti-India militant groups. Many of the groups were started with the support of the Pakistani government in the 1980s and 1990s to fight India for control of Kashmir. The rally was held to mark the 5 January, 1949 call by the United Nations for a referendum on Kashmir’s fate.

A 2003 ceasefire ended the most recent round of fighting. Each side occasionally accuses the other of violating it by lobbing mortars or shooting across the LOC.