India to respond 'aggressively to Kashmir attacks'

Indian Border Security Force soldiers patrol along the India-Pakistan border fence about 27 KM from Wagah on January 13, 2013 Kashmir has been a flashpoint for more than 60 years

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India's army chief has directed his commanders to respond "aggressively" to any firing by Pakistani forces in the disputed region of Kashmir.

Gen Bikram Singh said India had the right to retaliate at the "time and place of its choice" for an 8 January clash in which two Indian troops died.

Two Pakistani soldiers were also killed in firing last week and there were fresh exchanges at the weekend.

Both countries claim Kashmir and have fought two wars over the territory.

The violence has plunged the neighbours into the worst crisis in relations since the Mumbai attacks of 2008, which were blamed on militants based in Pakistan.

"We expect our commanders to be aggressive. The orders are very clear - when provoked, I expect my unit commanders should fire back," Gen Singh told reporters.

Both sides deny provoking last week's clashes in which the body of one Indian soldier, according to the Indian army, was beheaded.

"It was a clever and pre-planned attack by Pakistan," Gen Singh said of the incident. "Our response has been restrained and measured in retaliation to Pakistani provocation. We will retaliate at the time and place of our choosing."

Later on Monday commanders held a meeting at the border aimed at reducing tensions. Neither side have commented on the talks.

Both countries have summoned each other's envoys to protest about the killings of the soldiers. Pakistan denies Indian accounts of what happened.

Islamabad has also suspended one of the bus services that link Indian- and Pakistani-administered Kashmir.

Kashmir dispute

  • Claimed by both India and Pakistan; de facto partitioned when ceasefire line agreed in January 1949
  • Jammu and Kashmir is the only Indian state with a Muslim majority (60%)
  • Sparked wars between India and Pakistan in 1947-48 and 1965
  • Third conflict in 1999, when Pakistani-backed forces infiltrated Indian-controlled territory in the Kargil area
  • Armed revolt against Indian rule erupted in 1989, since when thousands have been killed
  • Fears it could trigger a nuclear conflict, as Pakistan and India both declared themselves nuclear powers in 1998
  • Ceasefire across Line of Control (LoC) agreed in 2003

Family members of the soldier at the centre of what Indian officials say was a "heinous attack" are on hunger strike and are demanding his head be returned to them.

Observation posts

Despite Indian accusations that Pakistan is in breach of ceasefire accords, two Indian newspapers have suggested the reverse may be true.

The reports last week said Indian commanders may have precipitated the clashes by ordering new observation posts on the Line of Control after a 70-year-old woman crossed it unhindered last year.

The Indian army denied any provocative actions but said there had been "routine maintenance of fortifications".

India suspended a peace process with Pakistan following the 2008 Mumbai attacks. Negotiations resumed in February last year.

Thousands of people have been killed in Indian-administered Kashmir since an armed revolt against Indian rule erupted in 1989. There has been a ceasefire with Pakistan in Kashmir since late 2003.

Last month, the two sides signed an agreement to ease visa restrictions on travel for some citizens.

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