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Indian, Pakistani troops exchange fire in Kashmir

An Indian Border Security Force soldier on duty in Srinagar, Kashmir © AFP/File / Tauseef Mustafa

Srinagar, India, Sep 20 – Gun battles raged on the disputed border between India and Pakistan in Kashmir Tuesday, two days after a deadly raid on an Indian army base that New Delhi blamed on Pakistan-based militants.

Eighteen soldiers died in Sunday’s attack, which was the worst of its kind to hit the divided Himalayan region in more than a decade and has increased hostility between the nuclear-armed neighbours.

Pakistan has rejected India’s claims as “unfounded and premature”.

US Secretary of State John Kerry expressed concern over the violence in Kashmir, urging both sides to reduce tensions.

“The Secretary reiterated the need for Pakistan to prevent all terrorists from using Pakistani territory as safe havens,” the State Department said after Kerry met with Pakistan Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif in New York.

Colonel Rajesh Kalia said there had been a “ceasefire violation” near Uri, where Sunday’s attack took place, but gave no further details. Uri is near the Line of Control (LoC) which divides the disputed territory.

Kalia said troops in the same area had blocked an attempt by suspected militants to cross the LoC into Indian-administered Kashmir.

“A group of 10-12 terrorists attempted to infiltrate the Uri sector. They were intercepted and the infiltration bid was foiled,” he told AFP.

An Indian Border Security Force soldier on duty in Srinagar, Kashmir © AFP / Gal ROMA

The Press Trust of India news agency said 10 suspected militants had been killed in the incident but this could not immediately be confirmed.

Another army spokesman said they were battling an unknown number of militants in Nowgam sector, south of Uri, who were trying to sneak into the Indian side on the heavily militarised border.

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“This second infiltration bid (in Nowgam) by an unknown number of terrorists has also been foiled and the operation is on.

“Unfortunately we have lost one soldier there,” Col Manish Kumar said, adding there was no information about any other casualties.

– Audacious assault –

India regularly accuses its arch-rival of arming and sending rebels across the border that divides Kashmir between the two countries, to launch attacks on its forces.

Occasional violations of a 2003 ceasefire between the nuclear-armed rivals are not uncommon. The last was reported on September 6 this year and caused no casualties.

Tuesday’s exchange was the first since Sunday’s attack, which the Indian army has blamed on Pakistan-based militant group Jaish-e-Mohammad.

The same outfit was implicated in an audacious assault on an Indian air force base in Pathankot in the northern state of Punjab in January. It left seven soldiers dead and dashed hopes of a revival of peace talks, which have been on ice ever since.

Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi has vowed to punish those responsible for Sunday’s attack.

India’s Congress Party workers hold candles as they pay tribute next to the Gateway of India in Mumbai on September 19, 2016 to the 17 Indian soldiers killed in a militant attack at the Uri army base in Indian-administered Kashmir © AFP/File / Punuit Paranjpe

During his election campaign he promised to take a hard line over Kashmir and has faced calls from army veterans — and even some in his own party — for military action against Pakistan.

On Sunday Home Minister Rajnath Singh accused Pakistan of “continued and direct support to terrorism and terrorist groups” and called for it to be internationally isolated.

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But security experts say India lacks the military capabilities to take on its neighbour in the divided Himalayan region, already tense after weeks of violent clashes between police and demonstrators protesting at Indian rule.

Kashmir has been split between India and Pakistan since the end of British rule in 1947. Both claim the disputed Himalayan territory in its entirety and have fought two wars over it.

Several rebel groups have fought an estimated 500,000 Indian forces deployed in the territory, demanding independence for the Muslim-majority region or its merger with Pakistan.

Tens of thousands of people have died in the fighting, most of them civilians.


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