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Pak guns boom again, tension heightens

New Delhi, July 30: Pakistani soldiers opened fire on an Indian post across the Line of Control this afternoon, a day after defence minister A.K. Antony said “India was showing maximum restraint” despite repeated violations of the ceasefire agreement, Indian Army sources said today.

Pakistan’s first response has been to deny that there was any ceasefire violation today. But reports reaching Indian Army headquarters in New Delhi said Pakistani soldiers opened fire in two bursts — at 11.40am and at 12.30pm with a light machine gun and light mortars — on the Nariya post that is manned by the Border Security Force.

The Nariya post is within kilometers of the Eagle post at Naugam in the Kupwara sector where the two armies traded fire for nearly 16 hours on Monday and Tuesday.

Today’s firing marks an escalation of the tension, from small arms to light artillery.

A senior defence ministry official, asked for his opinion on why shooting across the LoC was increasing in frequency, said: “We cannot speak for the Pakistanis but we can understand that the Pakistan Army needs to prove it is relevant despite a civil administration being elected.

“We also see that there is pressure on Pakistan from the US to show evidence that it is chasing the Taliban on its western border (with Afghanistan).”

In India, the increase in the frequency of ceasefire violations coincides with terror attacks in Bangalore and Ahmedabad and the bomb scare in Surat. Army officials say the Pakistan Army abets infiltration of militants into Kashmir by opening fire on Indian positions.

If defence minister Antony’s contention yesterday that Pakistan had violated the ceasefire 19 times since January this year is true, today’s incident is the 20th time that the Indian Army has borne the brunt of Pakistani firing without retaliating.

But pressure is mounting on the government and in army headquarters to respond to the violations. In the months before the November 2003 ceasefire agreement, the Indian Army used to respond with multiple volleys of artillery fire to shooting from the Pakistan Army in what it said was “punitive action”.

“The defence minister has already warned (Pakistan),” said Lt General Raj Kadyan, retired deputy chief of army staff. “But if such violations carry on and then we start retaliatory action, the ceasefire is over. The defence minister’s warning can be said to be in preparation for that.”

Reports reaching army headquarters in Delhi said the Pakistani soldiers of a unit identified as “21 PoK” opened fire shortly before noon.

“Our field commander talked to his counterpart over hotline and told him to stop firing lest the situation escalates. We told him that we are observing restraint and we may have no choice but to retaliate in case they again resorted to firing,” defence spokesperson Lt Colonel A.K. Mathur said in Srinagar. He added that there were no casualties.

The same Pakistani unit was involved in the firing on Monday-Tuesday after objecting to Indian soldiers reconstructing a forward observation post that Islamabad claimed was on its territory. An Indian soldier was killed.

Security agencies in Jammu and Kashmir are worried that the situation is going back to the pre-2003 ceasefire era when exchange of fire was a routine affair.

An officer feared that this might again lead to migration of people living near the LoC. “Both ceasefire violations took place in Naugam where there is no habitation close by. But if it spreads to other sectors, many people will have no option but to flee,” a police officer said.

With inputs from Muzaffar Raina in Srinagar

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