At least nine civilians were killed in Kashmir on Monday as Indian and Pakistani troops traded fire in the disputed region, in the latest setback to what had looked like renewed cooperation between the two nuclear-armed rivals just months ago.
Indian officials say five civilians were killed on their side of the border. The Pakistan Army confirmed four civilian deaths. Tens of thousands of villagers have fled their homes to escape the cross-border shelling by Indian and Pakistani troops, the Associated Press reports.
Relations appeared to be warming when Narendra Modi, India’s new prime minister, invited Pakistani Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif to his inauguration in May. The Pakistani premier’s attendance at the ceremony, the first in the history of the two countries, raised hopes of a thaw in tensions.
But those hopes diminished in August when India cancelled talks with Pakistan after accusing it of interfering with its internal affairs, the BBC reports.
Indian officials called off the meeting when they learned that the Pakistani envoy had met with Kashmiri separatist leaders. The two countries’ foreign secretaries were to meet in Islamabad to discuss ways of renewing a formal dialogue.
Monday’s gunfire and mortar shelling was one of the worst violations of a 2003 cease-fire between India and Pakistan, the AP reports. Commanders of both countries’ border forces had met prior to the outburst in an attempt to calm tensions. The incident follows a similar outburst of cross-border violence that killed at least six people in August.
Each side accused the other of firing first on Monday, the Wall Street Journal reports.
The Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and the Indian National Congress, the two largest political parties in India, both put the blame squarely on Pakistan.
"Whatever Pakistan is doing is certainly a serious matter. And we want to tell Pakistan that indulging in such activities is not good for that country," BJP leader Mukhtar Abbas Naqvi told the Times of India.
The AP reports that Indian officials have long accused Pakistan of waging violence to cover for Pakistani militants sneaking into India. But Pakistan denies what Prime Minster Modi has dubbed a “proxy war.”
The South Asian rivals both control a portion of Kashmir and claim it in its entirety. The region has been a flashpoint for more than 60 years, sparking two of the countries' three wars with one another, and regular skirmishes.
Writing for Foreign Policy in September, Allison Berland and Michael Kugelman said the “new leaderships in India and Pakistan offer reasons for cautious optimism toward reviving peace efforts.” But they acknowledged that such efforts could easily evaporate:
Historically, bilateral relations have resembled a boomerang: Efforts toward reconciliation have proceeded in fits and starts, with steps forward and hopes raised - followed by steps back and hopes dashed. Just when progress is being made, disaster strikes … In the short term, it will be difficult for the two countries to extricate themselves from this fits-and-starts pattern, and to find new sustained patterns of relating to one another.
Indian Home Minister Rajnath Singh warned on Monday that Pakistan should “understand the reality that the times have changed in India,” the Times reports. The new government has vowed to crack down on national security issues.