India-Pakistan Tensions Spike as Two Sides Trade Fire Across the Border

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Indian soldiers patrol near the Line of Control, which divides the Indian- and Pakistani-controlled halves of Kashmir, in the Poonch district on Aug. 8, 2013

After a weekend of escalating tensions in the disputed territory of Kashmir, the Indian army on Monday again accused Pakistan of violating the 2003 cease-fire at the border between the two countries. A spokesperson for the Defense Ministry told the Indian press that Pakistani troops had targeted Indian military posts with heavy firing for several hours early Monday morning, from around 1:50 a.m. to 6 a.m., in what the government says is Pakistan’s fifth cease-fire violation in the past three days. No deaths were reported overnight.

Pakistan in turn accused India of launching “unprovoked” artillery fire across the Line of Control (LoC), which divides the Indian- and Pakistani-controlled halves of Kashmir, claiming that the shelling had killed a civilian and severely injured another. The Pakistani military said that the Indians had also opened fire on two check posts.

(MORE: India-Pakistan Tensions Find Deadly Echo in Afghanistan)

The tumult comes less than a week after the Indian government accused Pakistani specialist troops of killing five Indian soldiers on Aug. 6 in the Poonch district along the LoC. Pakistan denied any role in that attack, but the event nevertheless quickly rekindled the long-standing ill will between the nuclear-armed neighbors.

Before last week, Pakistan’s new Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif had made overtures to New Delhi to get the governments’ relations back on track. Both countries stand to benefit greatly from increased trade and regional security cooperation, particularly ahead of the pullout of foreign troops from Afghanistan in 2014. A date was being worked out for the resumption of bilateral talks, and plans were under way for a meeting between Sharif and Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh next month in the U.S.

Now all of that may be on hold, as the two governments’ are seemingly once again consumed with lobbing accusations of “unprovoked attacks” at each other while civilians in the region endure another spasm of violence. In an online poll currently running on Indian news website, 85% of responders say they think India should call off talks with Pakistan.

(MORE: After Killings in Kashmir, India-Pakistan Relations Are Back on the Rocks)

After the military clashes resumed on the border last week, communal riots between Muslim and Hindu groups started in the Kishtwar district of Jammu and quickly spread to other areas in the region. At least two people were killed and dozens were injured in the chaos, and curfews have been imposed in several districts. On Monday, Jammu and Kashmir Chief Minister Omar Abdullah announced on Twitter that he had ordered a judicial inquiry into the violence, and New Delhi has also requested a report from the state on the weekend’s events.

The outbreak of communal violence and its repercussions is being hotly debated in the so-called monsoon session of Parliament that is now under way in New Delhi. Both upper and lower houses were adjourned after rowdy disruptions over the issue in the morning, and statements are expected from both the opposition leadership and government.

Meanwhile in Islamabad, Pakistani media has reported that the government is considering whether to recall diplomatic staff in New Delhi because of concerns for their safety.

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