Pakistan Says Soldiers Shot as India Border Tension Deepens

The Pakistani army said Indian troops shot dead two of its soldiers just days after an officer was killed, as border tensions threaten to jeopardize efforts to improve relations between the nuclear-armed neighbors.

The soldiers were killed in two separate incidents yesterday, the first near Rawalakot and the second in the Hotspring sector of the disputed Kashmir region, the Pakistani army said in a text message. Two others were injured, it said. An army captain was killed near Skardu and a soldier seriously wounded on Aug. 20, according to a Pakistani army official who asked not to be named as he’s not authorized to speak publicly.

Pakistan summoned India’s high commissioner yesterday to protest the “indiscriminate firing” and asked New Delhi to “desist from such acts,” according to a statement from Pakistan’s Foreign Ministry. N.N. Joshi, a spokesman for the Indian army, said he was not immediately able to comment.

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.

Even so, such skirmishes between India and Pakistan are not unusual and the situation tends to cool down, according to G. Parthasarathy, a former India High Commissioner to Pakistan and now a visiting professor at the New Delhi-based Centre for Policy Research. “I think it will reach a point where both sides will feel satisfied that they have settled the score,” Parthasarathy said.

Trading Fire

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,” Chandrasekharan said.

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.

Domestic Pressures

The neighbors have fought two of their three wars since 1947 over Kashmir, which is divided between the countries and claimed by both.

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.

Sharif led a defense panel meeting yesterday that called for the use of all military and diplomatic channels to prevent cease-fire violations, Pakistan’s foreign office said in a statement.

India Demands

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.

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