Indian, Pakistani troops exchange fire in Kashmir

An Indian army soldier takes up a position near the site of a gun battle between Indian army soldiers and rebels, near the border with Pakistan, on Sept 18, 2016.
An Indian army soldier takes up a position near the site of a gun battle between Indian army soldiers and rebels, near the border with Pakistan, on Sept 18, 2016.PHOTO: AFP

SRINAGAR, India (AFP) – Indian and Pakistani troops exchanged fire across their disputed border in Kashmir on Tuesday (Sept 20), two days after a deadly raid on an army base that New Delhi blamed on Pakistan-based militants.

Eighteen soldiers died in Sunday’s attack, which was the worst of its kind to hit the divided Himalayan region in more than a decade and has increased hostility between the nuclear-armed neighbours.

Indian army spokesman Colonel Rajesh Kalia said there had been a “ceasefire violation” near Uri, where Sunday’s attack took place, but gave no details. Uri is near the Line of Control (LoC) which divides the disputed territory.

“Small-arms exchange of fire is on in the area,” a senior police officer told AFP on condition of anonymity.

Separately, Kalia said troops in the same area had blocked an attempt by suspected militants to cross the LoC into Indian-administered Kashmir.

“A group of 10-12 terrorists attempted to infiltrate the Uri sector. They were intercepted and the infiltration bid was foiled,” he told AFP.

The Press Trust of India news agency said 10 suspected militants had been killed in the incident but this could not immediately be confirmed.

India regularly accuses its arch-rival of arming and sending rebels across the heavily militarised border that divides Kashmir between the two countries, to launch attacks on its forces.

Occasional violations of a 2003 ceasefire between the nuclear-armed rivals are not uncommon. The last was reported on Sept 6 this year and caused no casualties.

Tuesday’s exchange was the first since Sunday’s attack, which the Indian army has blamed on Pakistan-based militant group Jaish-e-Mohammad.

The same group was implicated in an audacious assault on an Indian air force base in Pathankot in the northern state of Punjab in January. It left seven soldiers dead and dashed hopes of a revival of peace talks, which have been on ice ever since.

The death toll from Sunday’s attack in which gunmen hurling grenades stormed a base was particularly high at 18, and Prime Minister Narendra Modi has vowed to punish those responsible.

Modi promised during his election campaign to take a hard line over Kashmir and has faced calls from army veterans – and even some in his own party – for military action against Pakistan.

On Sunday Home Minister Rajnath Singh accused Pakistan of “continued and direct support to terrorism and terrorist groups” and called for it to be internationally isolated.

But security experts say India lacks the military capabilities to take on its neighbour in the divided Himalayan region, already tense after weeks of violent clashes between police and demonstrators protesting at Indian rule.

Kashmir has been split between India and Pakistan since the end of British rule in 1947. Both claim the disputed Himalayan territory in its entirety and have fought two wars over it.

Several rebel groups have fought an estimated 500,000 Indian forces deployed in the territory, demanding independence for the Muslim-majority region or its merger with Pakistan.

Tens of thousands of people have died in the fighting, most of them civilians.