Praveen Swami

“Deliberate military escalation by Pakistan”

NEW DELHI: Fresh firing has been reported on the Line of Control in northern Kashmir, less than 24 hours after Indian and Pakistani commanders met in an effort to end clashes that threaten to undermine a ceasefire that has held since 2003.

Army sources said six mortar shells were fired at the Keryan Post, in the Nowgam sector, early on Wednesday morning. Manned by troops of 16 Jammu and Kashmir Light Infantry, the Keryan Post falls under the command of the Kupwara-based 19 Infantry Division, a formation responsible for defending one of the most sensitive, infiltration-besieged stretches of the LoC.

Indian commanders, the sources said, ordered their troops not to respond to the shelling, which is believed to be part of a deliberate Pakistani military escalation strategy intended to precipitate a crisis.

Wednesday’s shelling comes less than a day after a 16-hour battle between Indian and Pakistani troops in the Nowgam sector. An Indian soldier, rifleman Kumar was killed in a skirmish near Eagle 5 post, manned by troops of 22 Rajput Regiment.

Fighting broke out in the sector after Pakistani troops called for parleys with soldiers at Eagle 5, to protest what they claimed was illegal construction of an Indian observation post on the LoC.

Pakistani soldiers claimed that the post, built earlier this summer, lay on their side of the LoC. When Indian troops refused to vacate it, an altercation broke out and it eventually escalated into a shootout.

Pakistan was reported to have lost four troops in the skirmish, a claim it denies. However, the body of a Pakistani soldier was handed over by the Indian Army during meetings on Tuesday.

Wednesday’s firing suggests that efforts to de-escalate tensions on the LoC have achieved little on the ground.

Pakistani and Indian commanders had held a flag meeting in the Teetwal sector on Tuesday, in an effort to resolve tensions. The Directors-General of Military Operations had also spoken to each other on a special hotline in order to prevent the escalation of the Nowgam skirmish into a wider clash.

Defence Minister A.K. Antony said Pakistani troops had violated the LoC ceasefire 19 times since January, leading to a string of secret skirmishes first reported by this newspaper. He also noted that Pakistan-backed jihadists had made at least 60 attempts to breach India’s LoC defences this year, 40 of them in June and July alone.

Mr. Antony said India would maintain restraint to prevent escalation of tensions but was fully prepared to deal with any such instance firmly.

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