India, Pakistan armies to hold border talks

January 14, 2013 - 1:16:24 am

Border Security Force soldiers patrol along the India-Pakistan border fence about 27km from Wagah, yesterday.

NEW DELHI/JAMMU: Military officials from India and Pakistan will hold talks today at the Line of Control (LoC), which divides disputed Kashmir, to defuse tensions after a series of deadly attacks in the region, Indian army officials said. 

Four soldiers were killed last week in the worst outbreak of violence in Kashmir since the nuclear-armed neighbours agreed a ceasefire nearly a decade ago. 

“Yes the two sides will be meeting today. This is a local commander meet,” Colonel Rajesh Kalia, a spokesman for Indian Army’s Northern Command, said  by phone.

Another army spokesman, Colonel Jagdeep Dahiya, said in New Delhi that the meeting would take place in Mendhar, the scene of one of the deadly attacks, at 1pm. India had been seeking a brigadier-level meeting to discuss escalating tensions on the LoC but Pakistan, which had called for a UN probe into the incidents, responded only yesterday.

The two countries have fought three wars since their independence in 1947, two of them over the Himalayan region of Kashmir. 

India considers the entire region of snow-capped mountains and fertile valleys an integral part of its territory. Pakistan contests that and demands implementation of a 1948 UN Security Council resolution for a plebiscite to determine the wishes of the mostly Muslim people of Kashmir. 

India-Pakistan ties had shown signs of improving in the past year after souring again in 2008 when gunmen killed 166 people in Mumbai in a three-day rampage. India blames a Pakistan militant group for the massacre. 

Firing and small skirmishes are common along the 740km LoC despite a ceasefire that was agreed in 2003. The Indian army says eight of its soldiers were killed in 2012, in 75 incidents of ceasefire violations.

On January 7, a Pakistani soldier was killed in what Islamabad said was a cross-border raid mounted by the Indians. The Indian army denied any of its troops breached the control line, but said there had been an exchange of fire.

Two days later, further south along the LoC in the Mendhar district, two Indian soldiers were killed in a thick forest after what Indian officials said was a deep incursion into their territory by Pakistani forces. The head of one of the bodies had been “badly severed”, according to Indian officials.

On Thursday, hostilities erupted again in another part of the ceasefire line, and this time Pakistan said one of its soldiers was killed. The latest firing in Krishna Ghati sector in Poonch began overnight at 10 and continued an hour past midnight on Saturday, an official said.

The military said the firing was a violation of the ceasefire effective on the LoC since 2003, and the Indian Army offered a “calibrated response to silence Pakistani guns”. “Pakistani troops used medium and heavy machine gun fire. There was no loss of life or injury on the Indian side,” a source said. 

Trade between the Indian and Pakistani Kashmir, which takes place four days a week (Tuesday to Friday), stopped on Wednesday when Pakistani authorities did not open the border gates on the LoC.  An official in the Poonch administration said that the visas of more than 30 Pakistanis who have come to Jammu and Kashmir to meet their relatives will expire today.  “We will have to work on getting their visa extended,” he said.

The cross-LoC bus travel and trade takes place at Chakan da Bagh in Poonch district of Jammu region and at Salamabad in the Kashmir Valley.reuters/IANS