By Abu Arqam Naqash, Reuters
MUZAFFARABAD, Pakistan–Pakistan accused Indian troops of firing shells across the disputed border in Kashmir on Monday and tensions ran high in both countries after last week’s killing of Indian soldiers set off a wave of skirmishes between the two nuclear-armed rivals. Skirmishes flared along the 740-km Line of Control that divides Kashmir on Aug. 6 when five Indian soldiers were ambushed and killed in the Poonch region. New Delhi blamed the attack on the Pakistan army. Islamabad denied involvement.
While tit-for-tat shelling and machinegun fire are common along the LoC the current round of fighting is one of the most intense since a ceasefire signed in 2003. It has been linked to protests in both countries and rowdy scenes in India’s parliament. Under pressure from opposition politicians, the government has hinted at retaliation. On Monday, a Pakistani army official said a civilian was killed as a result of “unprovoked Indian shelling” in the Battal, Chirikot and Satwal sectors. “Pakistan troops effectively responded to Indian firing,” the official said.
The disputed Himalayan region was split between India and Pakistan in 1948 but they both claim it in its entirety. Riots and Protests The Indian army patrolled an area close to Poonch on India’s side of the fence on Monday after three people died in riots between Hindus and Muslims over the weekend. Opposition parties linked the rioting to the renewed border tensions, because some of the protesters involved had brandished a Pakistani flag. Jaitley was prevented from visiting the riot-hit area of Kishtwar on Sunday, and Kashmir’s chief minister, Omar Abdullah, accused him of trying to enflame tensions for political gain ahead of elections next year. Sporadic protests and clashes with police continued on Monday. On Pakistan’s side of the border, hundreds of people on Monday took to the street in Muzaffarabad, the capital of Pakistan-controlled Kashmir, accusing India of stepping up attacks. Media have reported Pakistan might redeploy some of its troops from the Afghan border, where the army is fighting a separate Taliban-linked insurgency, to the eastern frontier, but an army official said the option was not on the table. India and Pakistan have been trying to restart stalled peace talks, possibly as early as this month, as well as a possible meeting between Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and his Pakistani counterpart, Nawaz Sharif, in New York in September.