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Pak firing in raid zone tests LoC peace

New Delhi, Jan. 10: Pakistani troops fired on Indian troops near Jammu’s Poonch this evening, defence ministry sources said, the incident coming two days after two Indian soldiers were brutalised and killed, and raising questions on how long the LoC ceasefire would hold.

The firing today occurred in the Krishnaghati sector, adjoining Mendhar where Sudhakar Singh and Hemraj were killed in an alleged cross-border raid by Pakistani troopers, sources said. Another Indian source said “there was a calibrated response” to the firing.

Pakistan army sources claimed a soldier died in the firing by Indians, agencies reported from Islamabad. An Indian army officer denied the allegation. “The firing only started in the evening. Pakistan claims its soldier was killed in the afternoon (1pm IST) but there was no firing at that time.”

This evening’s firing, between 4.30pm and 6.30pm, marked the fourth ceasefire violation in 10 days. It occurred at a spot along the western stretch of the LoC that is proving to be the most volatile in the nine-year-old ceasefire agreed to in November 2003.

New Delhi and Islamabad have pledged commitment to the ceasefire, but statistics show the peace is fragile. The nature of no-war-no-peace that prevailed along the LoC till November 2003 may be undergoing a change with frequent low-intensity firefights increasing but use of heavy artillery restricted.

The Indian Army counted 117 violations last year — an average of one every three days. This was almost twice the 61 in 2011 (one every six days) and 57 in 2010.

If the frequency of violations has not gathered the sound and fury of the intensive fire exchanges along the LoC till November 2003, that is largely because of two reasons. First, Pakistan has reduced — though not in as great a measure as it claims — its deployment on the LoC to reinforce troops on its border with Afghanistan.

Second, the firing is targeted by both Indian and Pakistani troops at posts or patrols within a narrow band of 5 to 6km between India’s “Anti Infiltration Obstacle System” (fence) and Pakistani positions. The fence is inside Indian territory but its distance from the LoC varies from 500m to 2km or more, leaving several villages outside it.

This distance is covered by the new light artillery and other equipment that the infantries of the two countries have acquired in the nine years since the ceasefire was agreed.

Because mortars and grenade launchers bring these targets within their range, neither side is yet known to open up with medium or heavy artillery (like the 130mm or the 155mm Bofors that have ranges upto 30km or more).

Army sources in New Delhi said a flag meeting between sector commanders on the LoC may be requested shortly.

But the Indian Director-General of Military Operations (DGMO), Lt Gen. Vinod Bhatia, did not make such a request in his telephone “hotline” talk with his counterpart yesterday.

The most volatile sectors on the Indian side are Poonch, Uri (marginally less), Mendhar (including Krishnaghati), Bhimbar Gali, Rajouri and Nowshera — all on the western stretch of the LoC south of the Pir Panjal range.

In these sectors, in focus because of this week’s incidents, Indian and Pakistani troops are eyeball-to-eyeball, with each side holding roughly half the dominant (hill-top) positions.