Cross-border killings in disputed Himalayan area continue to escalate

Islamabad slams New Delhi ‘warmongering’ in Kashmir

AFP-JIJI

Pakistan has accused India of “warmongering” over deadly clashes in divided Kashmir, while calling for talks to end a flare-up that India has warned spells the end of “business as usual.”

Diplomats have cautioned against allowing a spate of cross-border killings to wreck a fragile peace process that had gradually warmed ties after a total break following the 2008 terrorist attacks on Mumbai. But Foreign Minister Hina Rabbani Khar spoke out after Pakistan reported another of its soldiers had been killed in “unprovoked” firing across the militarized border in the disputed region.

“We see warmongering,” Khar said Tuesday at the Asia Society in New York, where she blamed the renewed tensions on stridency by Indian politicians. “It is deeply disturbing to hear statements which are upping the ante, where one politician is competing with the other to give a more hostile statement.”

The latest incident took place Tuesday night, according to the Pakistani Army, and is the fourth deadly attack reported this month in Kashmir.

In a statement released in the early hours of Wednesday morning, Pakistan’s military said Wednesday that “unprovoked” firing by Indian troops had killed one of its soldiers across the border in Kashmir, adding to the escalating tensions.

Sardar Mushtaq, a local government official in the Pakistan-controlled Hajira district of Kashmir, further reported that Indian troops were firing at Pakistani villages “intermittently.”

India says two of its soldiers have been killed in Kashmir — one of them beheaded — since hostilities erupted Jan. 6 along the Line of Control, the de facto border along which a ceasefire has been in place since 2003. It has demanded the return of the soldier’s head, which is still missing.

Pakistan, however, denies its forces are responsible for the killings and says three of its troops have now been killed in the spate of incidents.

The nuclear-armed neighbors have fought two of their three wars since winning independence in 1947 over Kashmir. But Khar said the two neighbors need to get over their “narrative of hostility,” noting: “The doors to dialogue are open. We need to meet at any level, I think we need to call each other, we need to become mature countries which know how to handle their truth.”

Khar again denied Indian accusations that Pakistani forces had beheaded one of two soldiers that New Delhi claims were killed Jan. 8. She said an inquiry had found “no evidence” of the deaths. Her comments are likely to stoke further indignation in India, whose prime minister, Manmohan Singh, on Tuesday condemned the beheading as “unacceptable.”

“It cannot be business as usual” with Pakistan, Singh said in his first public remarks on the attack, on the sidelines of an army function in New Delhi. “Those responsible for this crime will have to be brought to book.”

Indian Foreign Minister Salman Khurshid on Tuesday reflected a growing sense of frustration over Islamabad’s denial of responsibility, saying it only served to destabilize peace efforts. “Such actions by Pakistani army . . . not only constitute a great provocation but leave us to draw appropriate conclusions about Pakistan’s seriousness in pursuing normalization of relations with India,” he said.

Indian Kashmir’s chief military commander, Lt. Gen. K. T. Parnaik, also cranked up pressure on Pakistan, saying a meeting on the border Monday between the two militaries to calm tensions was fruitless.

After the collapse in ties following the 2008 Mumbai attacks, which India blamed on Pakistan-based militants, relations had been making steady progress, with talks focused on opening up trade and easing visa regulations. But the mood has soured dramatically since the apparent tit-for-tat exchanges along the militarized border.

On Tuesday, India was meant to begin allowing Pakistanis over the age of 65 to obtain a visa on arrival at the border in Punjab. However, the program was put on hold until further notice only hours after Indian officials said it had come into force.