Amidst peace talks, LoC truce disintegrates

Praveen Swami

NEW DELHI: Even as India and Pakistan have reported progress in their ongoing dialogue on Jammu and Kashmir, the 2003 Line of Control ceasefire, the keystone that holds up the détente process, is beginning to disintegrate.

Indian troops reported three attacks on forward positions on Thursday, the latest in over a dozen clashes this year that ruptured a ceasefire that went into place along the Line of Control in 2003. The clashes took place less than 24 hours before bureaucrats from both countries met to discuss cross-LoC confidence-building measures.

Firing was first reported at around 9 a.m. from Gurez, in northern Kashmir, when Pakistani troops fired two bursts of small arms fire at an Indian position. Two hours later, a soldier was injured when small arms fire hit an Indian forward post in the Bhimbar Gali area of Poonch. A northern command spokesperson said the attack had been executed by terrorists seeking to cross the LoC. Later in the afternoon, Indian positions in Bhimbar Gali again came under intermittent fire.

Over a dozen similar skirmishes have taken place since January, as first reported in The Hindu. Most of the fighting, including a June 5 attack which claimed the life of an Indian soldier, has taken place in the Mendhar-Poonch belt. Pakistan has also complained of Indian assaults on its forward positions in this sector. Last week, Pakistan said its troops had come under mortar and small arms fire near the town of Hajira.

In another June incident, Pakistan admitted unknown assailants had killed four of its troopsa tacit admission of the presence of terrorists in the area. Later, however, Pakistan changed tack and accused India of shooting the soldiers.

While Pakistani troops often used fire to protect infiltration attempts before 2003, Indian military analysts believe the ongoing LoC clashes are part of a broader escalation strategy.

Islamabad hopes a crisis on the LoC will give it the pretext it needs to pull troops out of the North-West Frontier Province, a senior military official told The Hindu. It believes a crisis would compel the United States of America to pressure India to make concessions on Jammu and Kashmir, he said. According to the official, India’s decision not to use punitive force along the LoC was intended to avoid this outcome.

Pakistan had thinned out its forces along its northern borders with India soon after the 2001-2002 military crisis, in support of United States of America-led anti-Taliban war in Afghanistan. However, army chief General Pervez Ashfaq Kayani is believed to have decided to slash force commitments for the anti-Taliban campaign, and return troops to their traditional locations facing Jammu and Kashmir and Punjab.

Moreover, Pakistan has loosened restrains imposed on jihadist groups in an effort to buy peace with its allies-turned-enemies. Since April, members of the Lashkar-e-Taiba, Jaish-e-Mohammad, Hizb ul- Mujahideen and al-al-Badr Mujahideen have met at least twice in the city of Rawalpindi, one of the Pakistan army’s most important bases, to discuss military cooperation in Afghanistan and Jammu and Kashmir.

While Jammu and Kashmir has seen heightened infiltration since these meetings, the U.S. military says attacks in eastern Afghanistan have been 40 per cent higher in 2008 compared to last year. In both May and June, the death toll of foreign troops in Afghanistan was higher than in Iraq.

Earlier this month, the Associated Press quoted a former minister in President Pervez Musharraf’s ousted government as saying that Pakistan- based jihadists were being given grain as well as cash salaries of between Rs.6,000 and Rs.8,000. He said Pakistan’s army and intelligence services were aware of the practice.

Taliban cadre Maulvi Abdul Rahman confirmed the Minister’s allegations, telling AP that jihadists in West Asia were funnelling funds to his organisation. He also revealed that a tacit understanding with authorities allowed Taliban to cross freely into Afghanistan, in return for not staging attacks inside Pakistan.

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