Even as Indian and Pakistani troops continued to trade mortar and small arms fire on an over-100 km arc on the Line of Control (LoC), the Director Generals of Military Operations (DGMOs) of the two countries held a pre-scheduled conversation on a military-to-military hotline on Tuesday, in what sources described as an effort to contain further escalation.
Sources said Lieutenant General P R Kumar and Major General Aamer Riaz did not discuss specific measures to end the fighting but exchanged views on the causes of the skirmishes.
Last week, the two officers had delegated their weekly Tuesday conversation — held almost without interruption since December 1990 — to junior staff, amid largescale exchanges of fire along their mutually-accepted border west of Jammu.
Fresh firing was reported from the Poonch sector hours before the hotline conversation on Tuesday, with troops from the two armies exchanging fire at posts in Balakote, Kanga Gali, Kerni, Shahpur and Sawjian.
The two DGMOs last met face-to-face in December 2013, following intense skirmishes along the LoC that claimed the lives of over a dozen soldiers from both countries.
India and Pakistan agreed DGMOs talk on hotline as LoC remains on fire to use the hotline, first set up after the 1971 war, on a weekly basis in 1990, and reiterated their commitment to use it as a conflict-resolution mechanism in February 1999.
Fighting in the Poonch sector broke out on October 4, following the killing of an Indian soldier in a mine explosion — a death that Indian officials said was the result of a targeted ambush carried out by jihadists backed by Pakistan. The clashes ran parallel to separate mortar and small arms exchanges around the town of Arnia, west of Jammu.
Indian military data accessed by The Indian Express shows that 16 military personnel and civilians have been killed in 164 documented clashes in the Jammu region so far this year — marginally lower than the 19 killed in 161 incidents in 2013. In 2012, the Jammu region saw 63 clashes which claimed nine lives. In past years, however, the fighting was centred around the LoC which begins just north of Jammu. This year, there has been intense fighting in the densely-populated territory along the International Border (IB).
The levels of violence along the IB and LoC remain low if compared with those registered prior to 2002 — though 2014 has seen the highest civilian fatalities since the ceasefire came into place. Firing across the LoC, at its most intense from 1998 to 2001, was intended to facilitate the crossing of jihadists across the LoC, with fatalities of Indian security forces rising from 230 in 1998 to a record 577 in 2001.
India’s armed forces have long retaliated against attacks on the LoC, though much of the fighting has taken place following the August 6, 2013 killing of five Indian soldiers in a cross-border raid by Pakistani special forces. For example, India targeted posts across the LoC in retaliation, using modified air-defence guns and anti-armour missiles to destroy at least five bunkers.
Five Pakistani soldiers, including an officer, were reported to have been killed in similar strikes on posts near Skardu, across the LoC from the Kargil region. The decapitation of two Indian soldiers near Poonch in January last year was followed by strikes on Pakistani forward positions which claimed the lives of at least three soldiers from that country.
Fears are mounting in the Army, though, that continued exchanges between the two militaries could escalate — and that jihadists could find it easier to penetrate Indian border defences, as forward patrols and ambushes are forced to take cover. From 1998-2003, when largescale artillery exchanges were common on the LoC, a surge in infiltration pushed violence in Kashmir to record levels.
“Levels of firing on the border and levels of terrorist violence inside Kashmir are closely co-related,” a senior military official in New Delhi said. “No mystery here — if we’re not fired at, we can keep terrorists out, and that means less killings.”
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