Kashmir tensions rise as India, Pakistan exchange gunfire

At least 12 people have been injured, including children, as both sides blame each other for escalation

An Indian woman and her two children, allegedly injured by Pakistani troops firing across the border, are taken for treatment in Jammu, India, on Thursday.
Channi Anand/AP

Indian and Pakistani troops fired machine guns and mortar rounds over the line dividing their territorial claims in Kashmir, wounding at least 12 people — including children — amid some of the worst tensions in a decade in the disputed region, officials said Friday.

Analysts say it is too early to determine whether the firing signals a more serious escalation between India and Pakistan, nuclear-armed neighbors with a long history of animosity. Vivek Katju, a retired Indian diplomat, said the violence could be an attempt to raise tensions along the Kashmir dividing line to draw international attention to the conflict there.

A 2003 cease-fire between India and Pakistan has largely held, although there have been sporadic violations. In recent days, however, skirmishes in Kashmir have escalated significantly.

Both India and Pakistan have reported an increase in the number of cross-border attacks since their current prime ministers held their first face-to-face meeting last month in New York and agreed on the need to reduce tensions.

The latest violence in the Jammu and Kashmir region, which also borders Afghanistan and China, started Thursday night at about two dozen posts along the India-Pakistan dividing line. As with most cases of firing in the area, India and Pakistan accused each other of initiating the fighting.

Shantmanu, an Indian civil administrator in Kashmir who uses only one name, said 10 civilians, including four children, were wounded.

In Islamabad, Pakistani military officials said Indian troops fired first, wounding two civilians. The officials spoke on condition of anonymity, in line with military policy.

Pakistani Foreign Ministry spokesman Aizaz Ahmad Chaudhry called the cease-fire violations "a matter of great concern."

On Wednesday, India accused Pakistani troops of firing guns and mortars on at least 50 Indian border posts overnight in Kashmir, calling it the most serious cease-fire violation in a decade.

Pakistani Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif raised concerns about Kashmir tensions during a meeting with President Barack Obama at the White House on Wednesday. Obama praised Sharif for seeking to end tensions between Pakistan and India.

"Billions of dollars have been spent on an arms race in response to these tensions," Obama said. "Those resources could be much more properly invested in education (and) social-welfare programs on both sides of the border between India and Pakistan."

Sharif requested the United States to act as a mediator in the Kashmir conflict, but Obama reportedly rejected the idea.

India and Pakistan have fought two wars over control of the Jammu and Kashmir region, which is divided between them and claimed by both.

A 1948 cease-fire between Pakistan and India split control over the region along a line that is called the Line of Control and remains a flashpoint.

India regularly accuses Pakistan of supporting Kashmiri rebels, who have been fighting on the Indian side since 1989 for independence or a merger with Pakistan.

An estimated 68,000 people have been killed in the conflict, though most resistance is now in the form of street protests. Pakistan denies giving any backing to the rebels beyond moral support.

Al Jazeera and The Associated Press

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