Kashmir attack could put India-Pakistan peace talks on ice

The killing of five Indian soldiers along the Kashmir border last night comes as the two nuclear powers prepare to restart negotiations.

Activists of the Indian right-wing Hindu organization Shiv Sena shout slogans as they burn a Pakistani flag during a protest against the death of five Indian army soldiers in cross-border exchanges, in Jammu, India, Tuesday, Aug. 6, 2013.

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Five Indian soldiers were killed along the Kashmir border late last night, heightening tensions with neighboring Pakistan and threatening to upset peace talks.

The attack comes six months after some of the worst violence along the disputed Kashmir border in the 10 years since a cease-fire was first established. In January, Pakistan and India traded accusations of beheadings, warmongering, and late-night raids on the Line of Control (LoC) dividing Kashmir. The two nuclear-armed countries have been preparing to restart peace talks in recent months, and Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and Pakistani Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif are scheduled to meet in September on the sidelines of the United Nations General Assembly in New York.

"The peace talks were in any case quite tentative, and they have now certainly suffered a serious blow," Brahma Chellaney, a professor of strategic studies at the Centre for Policy Research think tank in New Delhi, told Reuters.

India’s parliament suspended activity in the wake of the shootings, demanding an explanation over how the attack could have occurred, Bloomberg reports. The Indian government summoned the Pakistani deputy-envoy to New Dehli in order to lodge an official complaint over the killings, notes a separate Reuters report.

“It is an extremely unfortunate incident," India’s Deputy Home Minister R.P.N. Singh told reporters in New Delhi. “If Pakistan wants to have better relations with India, I think this is not the way.”

A spokesman from Pakistan’s army told Bloomberg that its troops were not involved in any “unprovoked firing along the frontier.” And this was not the first killing along the LoC in recent days, according to Pakistani officials.

India escalated “technical and inadvertent” border violations in recent days, according to an Aug. 3 statement on the Twitter page of Pakistan military spokesman Major General Asim Saleem Bajwa. A Pakistani soldier was killed and another injured by Indian firing July 27 in the Rawalakot sector of Kashmir, he said.

The Christian Science Monitor reported after the January flare-up in violence that Kashmir has been a “major flashpoint” for India-Pakistan relations over the past several decades. Two out of three wars fought between India and Pakistan have been over Kashmir. The territory was divided between the two nations after British rule ended in the late 1940s, however, both countries claim the region in its entirety. A cease-fire has been in effect along the 460-mile LoC since 2003.

"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," Raza Rumi of the Pakistani think tank The Jinnah Institute told the Monitor in January.

The Times of India wrote today that it was “a heavily armed team of terrorists and Pakistani troops” that ambushed the Indian soldiers. There have been calls by Indian politicians for retaliation.

“Incidents like this have to be taken up at political and diplomatic level. It is a serious escalation and such attacks must be prevented,” Srinath Raghavan, Senior Fellow at the Center for Policy Research, told The New York Times.

“If we escalate the situation and the ceasefire goes, India and Pakistan will have to go back to a scenario that would be much worse,” Mr. Raghavan said.

Not everyone is convinced the five soldiers’ deaths will disrupt the slowly warming relations between Pakistan and India. “Nawaz Sharif is firmly committed to improving ties with India. He is keen on renewing the peace process and expanding the economic ties between the two countries,” Mr. Rumi told The New York Times.

“Sharif also sees better ties with India leading to a reduction of militarism in Pakistan," he said. "Incidents like the one on the border or the attack on the Indian embassy in Kabul again point toward non-state actors that need to be controlled.”

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