India denounced Pakistan on Wednesday over a firefight in the disputed territory of Kashmir in which two Indian soldiers were killed, but the nuclear-armed rivals both appeared determined to prevent the clash from escalating into a full diplomatic crisis.
India summoned Pakistan’s envoy in New Delhi to lodge a “strong protest,” accusing a group of Pakistani soldiers it said had crossed the heavily militarized Line of Control (LoC) in Kashmir of “barbaric and inhuman” behavior.
The body of one of the soldiers was found mutilated in a forested area on the side controlled by India, Rajesh K. Kalia, spokesman for the Indian army’s Northern Command, said.
India’s foreign minister sought to cool tensions, however, saying that exhaustive efforts to improve relations could be squandered if the situation was not contained.
“I think it is important in the long term that what has happened should not be escalated,” Salman Khurshid told a news conference. “We cannot and must not allow the escalation of any unwholesome event like this.”
“We have to be careful that forces … attempting to derail all the good work that’s been done towards normalization [of relations] should not be successful,” he added, without elaborating on who such forces might be.
Most Serious Incident in 10 Years
India and Pakistan have fought three wars since their independence in 1947, two of them over the Himalayan region of Kashmir, and both are now nuclear-armed powers.
Away from the border, ties had appeared to be improving of late. A Pakistan’s sports team completed a two-week tour of India on Sunday, its first visit in five years.
Firing and small skirmishes are common along the 740-km LoC, despite a ceasefire that was agreed upon in 2003.
However, incursions by troops from either side are rare. Retired Indian army Brigadier Gurmeet Kanwal, who previously commanded a brigade on the LoC, said Tuesday’s incident — about 600 meters from the de facto border — marked the most serious infiltration since the ceasefire was put in place.
Indian army officials said cross-border firing broke out hours after the clash but, on Wednesday, the LoC was quiet.
Naveed Chand, a shopkeeper in Chatar village just 2 km from the LoC on the Pakistani side told Reuters by telephone that there had been a pick-up in cross-border firing recently, unusual movements of army trucks and reinforcement of bunkers.
“We think something is up. People in the area are very alarmed,” he said.
It was not possible to independently verify events in the remote area, which is closed to journalists on both sides.
Pakistan’s foreign ministry denied India’s allegations of an incursion as “baseless and unfounded” and said in a statement that it was prepared for an investigation by a U.N. military observer group into recent ceasefire violations.