Trouble at the line: Another soldier killed in India-Pakistan sparring

A Pakistani soldier was shot dead yesterday along the disputed Line of Control in Kashmir, making the past 10 days the deadliest period of cross border fighting in nearly a decade.

Mukhtar Khan/AP
Indian army soldiers patrol near the Line of Control (LOC), the line that divides Kashmir between India and Pakistan, in Churunda village, about 94 miles northwest of Srinagar, India, Tuesday.

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A Pakistani soldier was shot dead along the disputed Kashmir border with India late Tuesday night, further raising tensions between the two nuclear-armed countries that already had each seen two soldiers killed there over the past 10 days.

In the latest incident Pakistan accused India of killing the soldier, saying the shooting – which took place along the so-called Line of Control (LoC) dividing the disputed Himalayan region of Kashmir – was unprovoked.

Over the past 10 days the two governments have traded accusations including beheading, warmongering, and raids along the LoC, reports Bloomberg News. But two Indian and two Pakistani soldiers were killed along the internationally recognized dividing line – last night’s death constitutes the fifth casualty – in a little more than a week. The Associated Press referred to this period as the “worst bout of fighting in the region in nearly 10 years.”

Today, an Indian Army spokesman said that “Our troops didn’t fire at all.”

Indian Army Gen. Bikram Singh commented, "If any Pakistani soldier has been killed, it may have been in retaliatory firing. Our soldiers do not cross the LoC," reports Reuters. Earlier in the week Singh said “I expect all my commanders at the Line of Control to be both aggressive and offensive in the face of provocation and fire," according to a separate Reuters report.

Pakistan's Army director of military operations reportedly called his counterpart in India today to complain, reports the Pakistani newspaper Dawn. Pakistan is dealing with heightened internal challenges after corruption charges were lodged against its prime minister yesterday.

A cease-fire has been in effect along the 460-mile border since 2003. Kashmir was divided between the two nations after British rule ended in the late 1940s, however, both claim the region in its entirety. Two out of three wars fought between India and Pakistan have been over Kashmir, reports Bloomberg. 

The Christian Science Monitor reports that the recent flare-ups along the LoC have some worried that it could jeopardize Pakistan and India’s move toward peace.

"This has been the historical trend: that whenever India and Pakistan move toward peace, one small incident reverses all progress made by the dialogue process," says Raza Rumi of the Pakistani think tank The Jinnah Institute. "The blame game by the two countries has been aggravated by the sensationalism of the Indian media, and the Pakistani media could now follow suit," he says.

The Delhi-based Centre for Dialogue and Reconciliation told the Monitor that those living in the border region are most concerned about sustaining peace.

"My team has visited the LoC areas and found that the people there are very scared of the escalating situation. The peace that has held there since 2003 is dear to them," says Sushobha Bharve from the Centre.

Despite the charged rhetoric coming from all sides, both governments say the recent deaths won’t knock communication and improved relations off track, reports Dawn.

Recent events have not only affected diplomatic exchanges. The public outcry coming from both countries appears to have affected more every-day matters including a cross-border visa program and the Indian hockey league. Nine Pakistani hockey players playing for India returned home due to protests there following the recent border-clashes, according to NDTV. And a new visa program for senior citizens “hailed as a sign of thawing ties” prior to the recent uptick in killings along the LoC may now be in jeopardy. 

“Pakistani senior citizens were turned away at a border post the first day the scheme was to come into effect,” reports the AP.

An editorial in the Indian newspaper The Hindu urges both sides to stand down and diffuse the tension that has resulted from recent events.

“After this dastardly act,” Prime Minister Manmohan Singh said on Tuesday, “there can’t be business as usual with Pakistan.” Dr. Singh’s tired words — and his government's dreadful decision to postpone the start of visa-free travel to India by senior citizens from Pakistan — suggest the relentless political attacks on his Pakistan policy are taking a toll.

This is not good news. It is entirely true that the beheading of Indian soldiers on the Line of Control was a despicable act that must be condemned. It must also be candidly admitted, though, that Pakistan has not had a monopoly of wrong-doing in this case.

It is pointless to ask who cast the first stone. The need now is to strengthen the restraint regime on the LoC. Few spectacles have been as unedifying as the contemptible baying of warmongers these past days — most of it, it bears mention, emanating from TV studios located at a safe distance from the nearest bullet. It is hard not to contrast Bharatiya Janata Party leader Sushma Swaraj’s ugly calls for 10 Pakistani soldiers to be beheaded in retaliation with the studied restraint of General Singh. No one who has seen war casually calls for the blood of soldiers to be shed — or believes they can predict, with any certainty, what the consequences of war will be.

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