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Pakistan-India skirmishes reignite Kashmir tensions

By Sumeera Riaz   |   Aug. 30, 2013 at 12:48 PM   |   Comments

LAHORE, Pakistan, Aug. 30 (UPI Next) -- Skirmishes between Pakistani and Indian troops along a disputed boundary in the shared region of Kashmir have reignited old tensions just as Pakistan's new government prepares to resume peace talks with India.

A cease-fire, periodically violated by both sides, has been in place along the Line of Control since 2003. The line, which divides Kashmir between the two countries, was meant to reduce tension in the region. The unofficial border was drawn after the countries fought a second war over control of Kashmir in 1971. Several Muslim separatist groups in the Indian-ruled part of Kashmir have been waging war for independence from India, or union with Pakistan.

Pakistani Foreign Office spokesman Aizaz Chaudhry told reporters Thursday that Pakistan is concerned about persistent violations of the cease-fire by India, saying Islamabad had conveyed to New Delhi concerns that skirmishes could take a "toll on the normalization of bilateral relations."

India accused Pakistani troops after five Indian soldiers were killed on the Line of Control Aug. 5, sparking categorical denials from Islamabad.

"Pakistan respects the cease-fire agreement and the killings of Indian soldiers might have been carried out by non-state actors or insurgents," Pakistani Information Minister Pervez Rashid told UPI Next.

Indian Defense Minister A.K. Antony told his country's Parliament that Pakistani forces were to blame for the deaths, after initially saying Pakistan was not involved.

"It is now clear that the specialist troops of Pakistan army were involved in this attack when a group from the Pakistan Occupied Kashmir ... side crossed the LC and killed our brave jawans," he said using a term for soldiers.

"We all know that nothing happens from [the] Pakistan side of the Line of Control without support, assistance, facilitation and often direct involvement of the Pakistan army."

Pakistan's High Commission in India was attacked by an angry mob shouting anti-Pakistan slogans and burning tires, before and after Antony's remarks. Pakistani Interior Minister Chaudhry Nisar said India habitually blames Pakistan for anything that happens on its soil.

"India is quick to blame Pakistan even if there is a cracker blast in their country," Nisar told reporters in Islamabad.

Pakistani Foreign Office spokesman Aizaz Ahmed Chaudhry said Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif's 3-month-old government was not interested in confrontation.

"The Nawaz government wants good neighborly ties with every country in the region and India holds a significant position in this regard," he told UPI Next.

"Pakistan does not want confrontation and is desirous of promoting peace and stability in the region, and the resumption of peace dialogue with India is part of these efforts."

Chaudhry was optimistic about an expected meeting between Sharif and his Indian counterpart, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, during the September opening of the U.N. General Assembly session in New York.

"Pakistan is trying to find a workable solution to de-escalate the recent tension before the meeting between two prime ministers takes place," he said.

A former senior Pakistani military official, who requested anonymity because he was not authorized to speak publicly on the topic, said cross-border firing incidents often increase when relations between Pakistan and India warm.

"Previous episodes of tensions between the two sides stand [in] testimony to the fact that whenever democratically elected governments on both sides tried to normalize relations, incidents like cross-border firing and cease-fire violations foiled such attempts," he said.

Retired Brigadier Shaukat Ali, a former deputy director general of the Rangers, Pakistani soldiers stationed along the Line of Control, said tension between the military establishments of both sides is not restricted to border skirmishes.

"Pakistan's military is not only concerned about its eastern border with India, it is also concerned about its western border with Afghanistan, where India has strategic interests and is trying to gain some significant role after U.S. forces exit the war-ravaged country," he told UPI Next.

He said the Pakistani army was in agreement with the newly elected government in the formulation of foreign policy toward India.

"Since Pakistan has been ruled by the military more than any civilian governments, the Pakistan army now wants the civilian government to have a greater role in foreign policy making as part of the democratic transition process," he said.

Information Minister Rashid said the recent tensions along the Line of Control had slowed down progress toward the resumption of dialogue.

"The formulation of modalities by the working groups on both sides has been put on hold for a while till things get normal on the border," he said. 

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