Fighting began on June 11 when sniper killed a BSF soldier

Brigade-level Commanders of India and Pakistan will meet on the Line of Control in Poonch on Saturday, hoping to defuse 10 days of bloody skirmishes which have left six soldiers dead and led to artillery deployment close the Line of Control (LoC) for the first time in a decade.

The meeting between 10 Brigade Commander T.S. Sandhu and his Pakistani counterpart, 6 Sector Commander Amir Sohail Ashraf, comes a week after Pakistan rejected an appeal for a Colonel-level flag meeting, sources in the Army said.

The fighting began on June 11 after Border Security Force soldier P.K. Mishra was shot dead by a sniper. Soldiers at the post, where Mishra was stationed, code named Kranti, returned the fire.

Two days later, soldier Harvinder Singh was shot dead in firing on a nearby post, code named Kripan. Four Pakistani soldiers, intelligence sources told The Hindu, were also reported to have been killed.

New Delhi-based military sources said the Army had pushed 155-millimetre Bofors guns into firing positions along the LoC from Mendhar to Poonch, fearing further escalation.

Islamabad has not offered any official comment on the clashes. However, Pakistan shut down the Chakan-da-Bagh border outpost for local trade this week and suspended the weekly bus service from Poonch to Rawalakote.

The bus service was inaugurated by United Progressive Alliance chairperson Sonia Gandhi in 2006, and has been seen as a key element in the India-Pakistan peace process.

No clear account has emerged of what led to the skirmishes, which came as Indian troops were engaged in rebuilding counter-infiltration fencing that runs across the LoC.

Pakistan has in the past complained that Indian troops engage in unprovoked firing across the border when the fencing disintegrates in the winter snowfall.

India says its aggressive posture is necessitated by the Pakistan Army’s continuous backing for groups of infiltrating jihadists.

“For all the good optics on India-Pakistan relations,” says Sushant Sareen, an expert at the Institute for Defence and Strategic Analysis, “the reality is you have one army deployed on hair-trigger alert, expecting infiltrating jihadists, and another on hair-trigger alert looking for gaps in its adversary’s defences. It is no surprise at all the clashes like these take place.”

“From our point of view,” a senior military official in Poonch said, “the Pakistanis were testing our resolve. We responded; not with a sledgehammer, perhaps, but with a large hammer.”

Even though a ceasefire went into force along the Line of Control in 2002, small-scale skirmishes have continued unabated.

Last year, for example, saw fierce fighting along the LoC in Karnah, some 140 km from Srinagar.

Highly placed military sources told The Hindu that the fighting began after two Indian soldiers were beheaded in an attack on a forward position by a jihadist unit. Indian special forces responded by targeting a Pakistani forward post, killing several soldiers. Intermittent clashes continued through the year, into December.

In July 2008, four Pakistani troops and an Indian solider were reported killed in fighting near Handwara.

Like the ongoing clashes in Krishna Ghati, the skirmish began with a dispute over the construction of new fortifications around an Indian position, code named Eagle Post.

Earlier that year, BSF constable Bhanwar Lal was killed in a clash along the LoC in Rajouri, while 8 Gurkha Rifles’ Jawashwar Lami Chhame was killed when jihadists shelled an Indian forward post in Poonch.

For the most part, these clashes have remained localised, with both armies seeking to contain the fallout.

In September 2009, Pakistani military commanders gave their Indian counterparts packets and sweets on the occasion of Eid, even as their soldiers were exchanging fire along the Krishna Ghati sector, as well as on Pargwal island, near Nikowal in Jammu. Like now, a meeting of Brigade commanders had to be summoned to defuse the crisis.

Decline in fatalities

However, fatalities have sharply declined compared to the pre-ceasefire period. In 1998, 78 Indian soldiers and 78 civilians were killed in 4,314 incidents of firing, Jammu and Kashmir government data obtained by The Hindu shows. In 2002, 114 soldiers and 36 civilians died.

Last year, though, only two soldiers were killedand one civilian injured, in 29 fire-exchanges on the LoC. This year, 19 clashes have taken place.

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