The Pakistani army said Indian troops shot and killed one of its officers as growing violence across a disputed border threatens to jeopardize efforts to improve relations between the nuclear-armed countries.
A Pakistani army captain was killed near Skardu in the disputed Kashmir region and another soldier was seriously wounded, said a Pakistani military official who asked not be identified because he’s not authorized to discuss the matter publicly. Indian troops began firing at 11:15 p.m. on Aug. 20 and the two sides exchanged fire for three hours, the official said.
India and Pakistan have been trading fire and counter-accusations since the deaths of five Indian soldiers on the Kashmir border earlier this month. Indian Defense Minister A.K. Antony told parliament on Aug. 20 that Pakistani troops carried out that attack. Pakistan has denied involvement and accused India of breaking a cease-fire agreement.
“For the last 10 years for most of the time the cease-fire has held,” said S. Chandrasekharan, director of the New Delhi-based South Asia Analysis Group. “The situation has changed in the last 15 days with the killing of the Indian soldiers. My fear is we are entering a dangerous phase where the violence could quickly escalate.”
The violence may damage the chances of Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and Pakistani Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif holding talks at the United Nations in New York next month. Singh said in a speech last week that Pakistan needs to prevent its territory being used as a base for attacks on India if relations between the countries are to improve.
Pakistan had proposed resuming peace talks after dialogue stalled amid some of the most serious border clashes in a decade in Kashmir at the start of the year. Pakistan suggested dates for talks on access to water from major rivers, and the Sir Creek maritime border, as well as the meeting between Singh and Sharif.
The talks will only take place if there is a reduction in border violence, Syed Akbaruddin, a spokesman for the Indian Foreign Ministry, said at a briefing in New Delhi yesterday. “An environment in which terrorism or violence is perpetuated against India is not the right type of environment for this,” Akbaruddin said.
Pakistan summoned India’s deputy high commissioner to protest the “unprovoked firing” across the border, according to a statement from Pakistan’s Foreign Ministry yesterday. The escalation damages the chances of improving ties, the ministry said.
India’s government faces elections next year and will be under pressure from the main opposition party to take a hard line against any provocation, Chandrasekharan said, while in Pakistan the army may be trying to prove its independence from a new government.
Sharif returned to power in a May general election, more than 13 years after his second period as premier was cut short by a 1999 army coup. He is battling to revive the Pakistan economy amid a spike in sectarian violence and electricity blackouts of as long as 12 hours a day.
The neighbors have fought two of their three wars since 1947 over Kashmir, which is divided between the countries and claimed by both.
Sitanshu Kar, spokesman for the Indian Defense Ministry, referred calls to the army yesterday. Messages left with the army spokesman in New Delhi were not immediately returned.
Defense Minister Antony said on Aug. 20 that the government was ready to respond if Pakistan continued with attacks. He called for Pakistan to take action against its own troops that he accused of carrying out this month’s attack and one in January when one of three soldiers killed was beheaded.
“Our restraint should not be taken for granted,” Antony told parliament.
In the first seven months of this year there were 57 cease-fire violations along the border, 80 percent more than the same period last year, Antony said in parliament Aug. 8. India had successfully foiled 17 infiltration attempts this year and killed 19 militants in the last two months, he said.