India said 20 heavily-armed “terrorists” along with men dressed in Pakistan army uniforms killed five Indian soldiers along the border in the disputed region of Kashmir, in a blow to efforts to resume peace talks.
The attack occurred early this morning and is part of a growing trend of violence at the frontier separating the nuclear-armed neighbors, Defense Minister A.K. Antony said in parliament today. Pakistan’s foreign ministry in a statement rejected “baseless and unfounded allegations. Our military authorities have confirmed that there had been no exchange of fire that could have resulted in such an incident.” Pakistan is committed to a 2003 cease-fire agreement, it said.
The latest violence in the Himalayan region may hinder efforts to repair ties between the South Asian neighbors shattered by the Mumbai terrorist attack in 2008. Pakistan’s Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif last month suggested dates for talks on access to water, and the Sir Creek maritime border, his first major peace initiative since winning elections in May.
“We strongly condemn this unprovoked incident,” Antony told lawmakers in both chambers of the house. “The government of India has lodged a strong protest” through diplomatic channels.
India has been considering a proposal for discussions between Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and Sharif at the United Nations in New York at the end of September, an Indian government official, who asked not to be named because he’s not authorized to discuss the matter publicly, said last week.
Indian “army commanders at the appropriate level may take retaliatory action,” said Dipankar Banerjee, a retired major general in the Indian army who served in Kashmir and now a defense analyst with the Forum for Strategic Initiative in New Delhi. “This tit-for-tat is par for the course, and both sides are at it.”
In the first seven months of this year, there have been 57 cease-fire violations along the border, 80 percent more than in the same period last year, Antony said in parliament. India had successfully foiled 17 infiltration attempts this year and killed 19 militants in the last two months, Antony said.
The territory of Kashmir is the biggest hurdle to India and Pakistan improving ties. The nuclear-armed neighbors have fought two of their three wars since 1947 over the region that is divided between them and claimed in full by both. An anti-India insurgency erupted in 1989, with India accusing Pakistan of aiding guerrillas groups in their attacks. Pakistan rejects the claim. Violence has ebbed in recent years.
In January and February, India and Pakistan’s governments and their militaries traded accusations of deadly raids across the de facto frontier in Kashmir. Indian Foreign Minister Salman Khurshid said at the time the clashes meant an end to “business as usual” between the countries.
The parliament in New Delhi adjourned earlier as opposition lawmakers in both chambers stood up from their seats to demand an explanation from the government over how the attack occurred.
The Press Trust of India, citing Indian defense officials it didn’t name, said the incident occurred in Indian territory after midnight and ambushed the Sarla post along the so-called Line of Control that has divided Kashmir since shortly after independence from British colonial rule.
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.
Sitanshu Kar, India’s defense ministry spokesman, did not answer two calls to his mobile phone seeking comment.
Narendra Modi, who is expected to be the main opposition alliance’s prime ministerial candidate at the next election in less than a year, criticized the government for failing to secure India’s borders. Writing on his official Twitter account, he described the attack as a “dastardly ambush”.
“When will the center wake up?” Modi said, referring to the central government. “From China’s intrusions to Pakistan’s ambushes -- UPA government has been absolutely lax in securing Indian borders.”
India had a military standoff with China high in the Himalayas in April. India alleged Chinese troops crossed into Indian-held territory in Ladakh in the north, triggering a three-week escalation in tensions that ended with an agreement negotiated by army commanders.
“This is not the way that we are going to have better relations” with Pakistan, junior home minister R.P.N. Singh said in televised comments outside parliament.
To contact the reporter on this story: Andrew MacAskill in New Delhi at firstname.lastname@example.org
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