India, Pakistan Army Officers in Talks to Defuse Kashmir Clashes

Senior army officers from India and Pakistan held talks today to defuse tension along their disputed Kashmir border, after a series of clashes sparked a diplomatic row and threatened the neighbors’ peace bid.

The rivals have traded claims of cross-frontier violations of their decade-old truce in Kashmir and summoned each other’s diplomats in the last week, with the beheading of an Indian soldier in a Jan. 8 confrontation bringing demands for dialogue to be scrapped. The Hindu newspaper reported the fighting may have been sparked by the Indian construction of a bunker.

Indian Army Chief Bikram Singh told a press conference today that the killing of two Indian soldiers was “gruesome and unpardonable.” He said the military was seeking the return of the slain soldier’s head. Hours later, brigade commanders of both armies met along the de facto Kashmir border, known as the Line of Control.

Some of the most serious cross-border skirmishes since 2003 between the two nuclear-armed neighbors, which resumed peace talks after a three-year break in ties over the Mumbai terrorist attack, have undermined a sustained bid to improve trade and ease travel restrictions. The nations have fought two of their three wars over Kashmir, which was divided between the two shortly after independence from British rule.

General Singh today called Pakistan’s Jan. 8 attack “preplanned,” and said India reserved “the right to retaliate at the time and place of its choice.” At the same time, the army chief vowed to “uphold the cease-fire as long as it is maintained.”

Pakistan has denied its troops crossed the border and has accused New Delhi of propaganda to divert attention from what Pakistan’s army says was an unprovoked Indian attack two days earlier that killed one Pakistani soldier.

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