NEW DELHI (Reuters) - India said on Monday it was running out of patience with Pakistan army-backed transgressions across disputed Kashmir as cross-border firing spread further north for the first time since the two armies agreed a ceasefire in 2003.
Tension has been running high along one of the world’s most militarised borders in Kashmir since August 6 when five Indian soldiers were ambushed and killed while on a patrol.
Defence Minister A.K. Antony said it was clear that specialist troops of the Pakistani army were involved in the attack on the soldiers whose deaths triggered criticism that the government’s posture toward the neighbour had been too soft.
Antony demanded that Pakistan act against its troops involved in the latest incident as well as the killing of two soldiers back in January, one of whom was decapitated.
“Naturally, this incident will have consequences on our behaviour on the Line of Control and for our relations with Pakistan,” he told parliament, referring to the de facto border between the two countries in the disputed Kashmir region. “Our restraint should not be taken for granted.”
Pakistan has denied involvement and instead accused India of opening fire and killing one of its soldiers in late July. Also the same month, police in Pakistan-controlled Kashmir said four civilians who had gone to collect herbs near the Line of Control had gone missing and their families believed they had been arrested by the Indian army.
The rhetoric in India has been steadily mounting as the Congress-led coalition government faces a difficult election less than a year away, with Prime Minister Manmohan Singh being criticised by opposition hardliners and even from within his party for trying to quietly relaunch peace talks with Pakistan.
On Sunday night, the two armies - which are in close proximity in many areas - exchanged fire along the Kargil stretch of the mountains where the ceasefire has held since November 2003.
“The firing continued for half an hour, however, there was no loss of life or damage”, said a police officer in the Indian side of Kashmir.
The two armies fought an undeclared war in Kargil in 1999 after Pakistani army-backed irregulars crossed the Line of Control, prompting Indian air and ground operations to evict them. The have fought three wars since 1947.
Indian army officials say the latest attack on its soldiers was carried out by Pakistan’s Border Action Team (BAT). The unit includes members of Pakistan’s commando Special Services Group and irregular forces, including members of Lashkar-e-Taiba, a Pakistan-based militant group.
“Pakistan is making a serious mistake with regard to ceasefire and BAT attacks. It should not do it. It is not going to deter us. The army is here to respond in each and every act of Pakistan,” said Indian army Major-General V.P.Singh, a division commander in the Rajouri sector along the border.
So far, the two armies have exchanged small-arms firing, refraining from the artillery duels they engaged in before the ceasefire in 2003.
Additional reporting by Abu Arqam Naqash in MUZAFFARABAD and Fayaz Bokhari in SRINAGAR; Editing by John Chalmers and Robert Birsel