Kashmir border 'agreement' struck following deadly flare-up

Senior military commanders from both sides talk on phone following the death of a Pakistani soldier in 'unprovoked' attack. Samanth Subramanian reports from New Delhi

NEW DELHI // India's army has reached an "understanding" with Pakistan to "de-escalate" military tensions in Kashmir after a deadly flare-up in the disputed border region, an army spokesman said yesterday.

"An understanding has been arrived at between the two director generals of military operations to de-escalate the situation along the Line of Control," army spokesman Jagdeep Dahiya said in reference to the de facto border in Kashmir.

Mr Dahiya said the two sides' senior military commanders had spoken for 10 minutes over the telephone and reached their agreement, adding that Indian troops stationed along the border would not breach the ceasefire forged between the two nuclear-armed rivals in 2003.

The agreement follows India's denial yesterday of an "unprovoked" killing of a Pakistani soldier during the latest exchange of fire. It also claimed the that Pakistani troops had seeded landmines in Indian soil.

A statement from the Pakistan army said that Naik Ashraf, a soldier stationed at the Kundi Post near the Line of Control, died "due to unprovoked Indian firing" late on Tuesday night.

But General Bikram Singh, India's army chief, dismissed the claim of unprovoked firing.

"If any Pakistani soldier has been killed, it may have been in retaliatory firing," he said yesterday.

"They fire, we fire," Gen Singh added. "Our troops don't cross the Line of Control. We respect human rights."

Mr Ashraf was the fifth soldier to die in skirmishes in Kashmir since the year began. Two Pakistani and two Indian soldiers were killed, with India alleging that one of its killed soldiers was decapitated by Pakistani troops.

The violence has raised tensions between the two countries. India's prime minister, Manmohan Singh, condemned the beheading of the Indian soldier, saying on Tuesday: "It cannot be business as usual with Pakistan after the heinous act."

Gen Singh has said that the army would be "aggressive and offensive in the face of provocation and fire" from Pakistani positions.

Pakistan's foreign minister, Hina Rabbani Khar, has in turn accused India of "warmongering … which I thought was a thing of yesteryear and what we had put behind us".

The two countries have fought three wars since their independence in 1947, two of them over the Himalayan region of Kashmir. The region is divided between the two countries, but each claims it in its entirety.

But Ms Khar said they had to get over their "narrative of hostility".

"The doors to dialogue are open," Ms Khar said.

"We need to meet at any level, I think we need to call each other, we need to become mature countries which know how to handle their truth."

The Indian army yesterday released photographs of landmines that, according to Indian Lt Gen K T Parnaik, were manufactured in Pakistan and planted in India during Pakistani incursions across the Line of Control.

He claimed that Pakistani troops had already violated the ceasefire five times since Indian and Pakistani army officers met near the Line of Control on Monday.

The tensions across the border have already affected civilian relations between the two countries.

India postponed the start of a new visa regime that would allow Pakistanis older than 65 to obtain a visa on arrival as they crossed the border into Punjab. The meeting of the commerce ministers of the two countries, scheduled for later in January, has now become uncertain.

Nine Pakistani hockey players had to drop out of their teams in a tournament in India.

* With additional reporting from Associated Press and Agence France-Presse

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