The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Delhi holds fire on shelled ceasefire

New Delhi, Jan. 19: New Delhi and Islamabad today worked the phone to preserve peace along the Line of Control after mortar shells fired at Indian Army positions in Jammu and Kashmir threatened to mar a ceasefire that has lasted over a year.

Guns fell silent along the LoC on November 26, 2003, and the ceasefire underpins the dialogue for peace between Delhi and Islamabad.

This is the first time since then that weapons of such calibre have been used. But military sources said the inputs available so far suggested a 'localised incident' and not a 'major fire assault'.

At the diplomatic level, too, Delhi seemed to be willing to accept Islamabad's word that it was not involved. 'It is a serious breach but Pakistan has denied its involvement in the firing. Let's see what happens next,' a senior official said, indicating that Delhi would like to give the benefit of doubt to Islamabad, which termed the incident 'minor'.

Defence minister Pranab Mukherjee said that despite the firing, 'the question of the ceasefire getting disrupted does not arise'.

India's director-general of military operations Lt Gen. A.S. Bahiya phoned his Pakistani counterpart, Maj. Gen. Mohammad Yousuf, and gave the coordinates and the positions that were fired at.

'Initially they (the Pakistani side) said they had heard the blasts and the explosions and said they were not aware of what had happened. After we gave them details, the Pakistan side said they will investigate and get back to us. We take this as a violation of the ceasefire,' said Lt Gen. Bhupender Singh Thakur, who took over as vice-chief of the army this morning.

Army sources said today's phone talk by the director-general of military operations was 'out of the routine'. By convention, he talks to his counterpart every Tuesday and may talk 'as and when necessary'.

The official Pakistani response does not link the firing to an order issued by its army headquarters. The cause of the incident continues to mystify army headquarters in Delhi.

Till it has more intelligence inputs, the consensus is that it was probably a localised incident caused by a junior commander who could not hold nerve after five militants were killed nearby a day earlier.

A mortar shell aimed at the Indian Army's Durga post in the Poonch sector was fired from across the LoC at 6.35 pm yesterday. That was followed by at least 12 more rounds of mortars fired at a position held by an Indian battalion at Banwat between 7.30 and 8.30 pm.

The sources in Delhi said a girl was reported to have been a casualty north of Poonch town. In military terms and given the background of the Line of Control, the mortar attack cannot be categorised as a major 'fire assault'.

The Pakistani army used 60mm mortars at the platoon level and 82mm mortars at the battalion level. The first shell fired at 6.35 was a 60mm mortar and subsequent shells 82mm. The 60mm has range of 600 metres and the 82mm 5,000 metres.

The mortars were probably fired from Pakistan's Raja Rani post or positions close to it. The Raja Rani post, a crucial strategic observation position for the Pakistani army, gives gunners a wide view of the Poonch sector. The post was captured by the Indian Army in the 1965 war but was handed back after the Tashkent agreement.

Lt Gen. Thakur said the Indian side 'maintained restraint and there has been no retaliation'.

Asked to analyse the reasons why the Pakistan army would launch such an attack, a senior official who has served in the sector said: 'This is too weak an assault to be classified as one intended to wreck the ceasefire. An 82mm mortar has to be fired about thrice before it is stabilised (a process called bedding).

'Given that, they have fired about seven to eight rounds which is piffling compared to what we have experienced along the Line of Control. During Operation Parakram and the Kashmir elections, 2,400 rounds were fired a day in the Kargil sector.'

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