A series of deadly skirmishes along the India-Pakistan border are endangering the official cease-fire between the two nations, increasing tensions already sparked by a lethal series of terrorist bombings in India last weekend.
The Hindu newspaper reports that Indian military along the Line of Control (LoC), the border that divides Kashmir between India and Pakistan, claimed that they were shelled by Pakistani forces on Wednesday, though no one was injured.
Army sources said six mortar shells were fired at the Keryan Post, in the Nowgam sector, early on Wednesday morning. Manned by troops of 16 Jammu and Kashmir Light Infantry, the Keryan Post falls under the command of the Kupwara-based 19 Infantry Division, a formation responsible for defending one of the most sensitive, infiltration-besieged stretches of the LoC.
Indian commanders, the sources said, ordered their troops not to respond to the shelling, which is believed to be part of a deliberate Pakistani military escalation strategy intended to precipitate a crisis.
The Pakistani daily Dawn reports, however, that Pakistani military officials denied that any shelling had taken place.
Kashmir and the LoC have been points of contention between India and Pakistan since 1947, when the two countries were gained independence from the British. The nations have fought several wars over the territory, which both sides claim. The latest confrontation occurred in 1999 in the Kargil district of Kashmir. India and Pakistan committed to a cease-fire in 2003 and have gradually been renewing diplomatic ties. But the recent violence has threatened that progress.
The Telegraph of Calcutta writes that the shelling, the latest in a string of attacks that began earlier this week, has increased pressure on India to respond to Pakistan in kind. Pakistan is also accused of involvement in a series of bombings last weekend in the western city of Ahmedabad.
In India, the increase in the frequency of ceasefire violations coincides with terror attacks in Bangalore and Ahmedabad and the bomb scare in Surat. Army officials say the Pakistan Army abets infiltration of militants into Kashmir by opening fire on Indian positions.
If defence minister Antony's contention yesterday that Pakistan had violated the ceasefire 19 times since January this year is true, today's incident is the 20th time that the Indian Army has borne the brunt of Pakistani firing without retaliating.
But pressure is mounting on the government and in army headquarters to respond to the violations. In the months before the November 2003 ceasefire agreement, the Indian Army used to respond with multiple volleys of artillery fire to shooting from the Pakistan Army in what it said was "punitive action".
"The defence minister has already warned (Pakistan)," said Lt General Raj Kadyan, retired deputy chief of army staff. "But if such violations carry on and then we start retaliatory action, the ceasefire is over. The defence minister's warning can be said to be in preparation for that."
The shelling is the latest incident in this week's ongoing violence along the LoC. On Monday, according to The Telegraph, an Indian soldier was killed after a verbal exchange that occurred when several Pakistani troops allegedly crossed into Indian territory and were approached by Indian forces.
[Indian] Defence spokesman A.K. Mathur said in Srinagar: "A soldier in a track suit with a white flag in his hand was leading them and they were around 200 metres inside our territory. When our patrol saw them we did not open fire because they were carrying that flag."
The soldier who was leading the Indian patrol tried to move close to find out why the Pakistanis had crossed the LoC but was greeted with fire that killed him on the spot, he said.
Till late this evening, the two sides were still firing at each other and the body had not been recovered. The officer said though the body was on the Indian side, an attempt to recover it would expose more soldiers to Pakistani firing.
There were unconfirmed reports that four Pakistani soldiers had died.
The news website PakTribune reports that Pakistan officially denies knowledge of any exchange of fire between Pakistani and Indian forces. A Pakistani military official speaking anonymously, however, said that the Indian soldiers opened fire without provocation and the Pakistani soldiers only defended themselves.
The violence along the border only heightens the tensions between the two countries that were sparked by the string of bomb attacks in India on Saturday, which left at least 45 dead and 160 wounded, reports The Christian Science Monitor. Although a little-known group called the Indian Muhajideen claimed responsibility for the attacks, experts believe that Islamist insurgents in Pakistan and Bangladesh are to blame.
"The way in which the attack in Ahmedabad took place – the multiplicity of the bombs and the way in which they were coordinated – suggests a level of expertise not yet associated with any Indian group," says Uday Bhaskar, a security analyst and former director of New Delhi's Institute for Defense Studies and Analyses. "It is reasonable to say this group has benefited from external involvement," he adds.
Other observers say the "Indian Mujahideen" was coined to cover the involvement of Pakistani groups, although few here doubt that Indian Muslims are involved at some level....
Many believe that Islamabad retains links to militant groups, although the degree to which it remains operationally in control is unclear, especially at a time when Pakistan itself is suffering from an upsurge of Islamic militancy. Pakistan, meanwhile, denies backing any Islamic militants, including those operating in the disputed Himalayan state of Kashmir.
Agence France-Presse reports that the Indian and Pakistani foreign ministers will discuss the rising tensions during the South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation meetings this weekend in Sri Lanka. Although neither government has commented on the subject of the talks, experts believe that both sides are looking to calm the rising tensions between them.
"I think the effort of both sides will be to see that even if there is no breakthrough, there is no break-off," said analyst C. Uday Bhaskar, former head of the Institute of Defence Studies and Analyses think-tank in New Delhi.
Retired Indian diplomat Kanwal Sibal also said that "both countries will aim to keep the dialogue process alive."
"The level of trust that had been slowly built up over the past four years has been affected," Sibal said. "This in turn will affect the content of the dialogue process."
But Reuters reports that the meetings may be somewhat confrontational, citing an Indian source who says that Pranab Mukherjee, the Indian foreign minister, will send a "strong message" to his counterpart that Pakistan needs to do more to rein in anti-Indian insurgents based within Pakistan's borders.