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Skirmishes can hurt India-Pakistan peace process PDF Print E-mail
Friday, 01 August 2008

REUTERS, ISLAMABAD- A series of violations of a five-year-old ceasefire on the de facto border dividing the disputed Kashmir region will add to the chill forming over a peace process between nuclear-armed India and Pakistan, analysts say.

There have been three exchanges of fire across the de facto border this month alone. Firing occurred for a third consecutive day on Wednesday, marking the most serious violation yet of a ceasefire that began in 2003, months before peace talks began.

One Indian soldier was killed while Pakistan hasn't confirmed any casualties.

As usual, both sides have blamed the other.

Senior Indian and Pakistani army officials on Tuesday met near LoC to "ease the tension," Indian army spokesman Lieutenant-Colonel A. K. Mathur added.

"If these violations lapse into the previous pattern... I am afraid the peace process will be adversely affected," said Talat Masood, a former Pakistani army general turned security analyst.

Last week India described the peace process as "under stress" after the two sides held their latest round of talks in New Delhi.

The talks had gone ahead in the shadow of a suicide car bomb attack outside the Indian embassy in Kabul, and spate of incidents on the ceasefire line that acts as a de facto border dividing the disputed Kashmir region.

India and Afghanistan have blamed a Pakistani intelligence agency for the blast in Kabul that killed 58 people, including two senior diplomats.

Pakistan has denied any complicity, though the New York Times reported on Tuesday that a senior Central Intelligence Agency official had confronted Pakistan with evidence of the Directorate for Inter Services Intelligence's (ISI) involvement.

At the same time India had braced for increased levels of infiltration by militants in Pakistan ahead of local elections in Indian Kashmir due by late November.

Two Indian soldiers, including an officer, and four suspected militants were killed in gunbattles in Kashmir last week, while two others died in a grenade attack.

"Violence always rises in Kashmir during elections," said Hasan Askari Rizvi, a political analyst based in Lahore.

"It's either Pakistani (militant) groups that have become active again or Indians who try to create an impression that militants are out to undermine elections," he said.

FEDERAL RULE

Amid the rising violence, New Delhi imposed central rule in Kashmir after the state government fell over a controversial transfer of land to a Hindu shrine that sparked large scale protests last month, and resulted in the transfer being revoked.

At least six people were killed and hundreds injured.

In the past, India has said Pakistani forces have provided covering fire while militants sneaked across the now fenced off border, and accused Pakistan of arming the Islamist fighters fuelling an insurgency in Kashmir that began in 1989.

Pakistan denies the charge and says it only offers political support to what it calls a legitimate freedom struggle.

The border had been relatively calm in the past few years, as infiltration levels tapered off after Pakistan's President Pervez Musharraf opened peace talks at the start of 2004 with then Indian prime minister Atal Behari Vajpayee.

The destabilisation of the so-called Line of Control is expected to figure prominently when Indian prime minister Manmohan Singh meet his new Pakistani counterpart Yousaf Raza Gilani in Colombo, Sri Lanka, on the sidelines of regional summit early next month.

While there has been scant progress on resolving the core issue of Kashmir, the cause of two of the three wars Pakistan and India have fought, the peace process has advanced commercial, cultural and sporting links.

Analysts say the two countries were unlikely to allow the current tensions completely destroy the "no war phase" that four-and-a-half years of negotiations had brought.

"The peace process can slow down a bit but it will not derail," Rizvi said.

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