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Pakistan, India trade blame for Kashmir firing; one dead

An Indian army soldier stands guard while patrolling near the Line of Control, a ceasefire line dividing Kashmir between India and Pakistan,
An Indian army soldier stands guard while patrolling near the Line of Control, a ceasefire line dividing Kashmir between India and Pakistan,

By Katharine Houreld

ISLAMABAD (Reuters) - The Pakistani military said on Wednesday one of its officers had been killed in "unprovoked" firing by Indian troops across the border in the disputed Kashmir region but an Indian official said his side had only responded to initial Pakistani fire.

The incident was the latest in a series of clashes that began this month which has undermined a push by Pakistan's new civilian government to improve ties with old rival India.

A Pakistani military official said that as well as the officer killed, a soldier was seriously wounded in the "unprovoked Indian shelling".

The violence came two weeks after the killing of five Indian soldiers along the so-called Line of Control that separates the two sides in the Himalayan region. India said the five were killed by Pakistani forces but Pakistan denied involvement.

The nuclear-armed rivals have fought three wars since 1947, two of them over Kashmir. Both control a part of the Muslim-majority region but claim it in full.

A truce along their Kashmir border has held for nearly a decade even though it has been broken every now and then by tit-for-tat artillery fire and the occasional cross-border ambush.

An Indian army official said Indian troops came under heavy mortar and light-machine gun fire from the Pakistani side on Tuesday night in the Kargil region, where the two sides fought an undeclared war in 1999.

The Kargil region had been peaceful since then until shooting began again last week.

"Under intense pressure ... we fired back," the Indian official said.

India has faced an insurgency in its part of Kashmir since 1989 and had long accused Pakistan of supporting the militants fighting Indian rule.

Pakistan denies arming the militants, saying that it only offers moral support to the Muslim people of Kashmir who are living under what Pakistan criticizes as harsh Indian rule.

EYES ON AFGHANISTAN

Nevertheless, despite Pakistan's denials that it helps the militants, fighters have for years slipped from the Pakistani side of Kashmir into the Indian side to battle Indian forces.

India says that this year it has seen a spike in attempts by militants to infiltrate into its part of Kashmir.

Many analysts expect the trend to continue as the two countries jostle for influence in Afghanistan as a NATO force prepares to withdraw by the end of 2014.

Both nations fear the other is trying to install a proxy government in Kabul.

Pakistan's government, elected in a May general election, has tried to be conciliatory over the latest outbreak of border violence.

On Monday, Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif, who made better ties with India a theme of his election campaign, said Pakistan and India should be fighting poverty and illiteracy instead of each other. He has also asked for talks with Indian officials.

But with elections approaching in India, many doubt that the government in New Delhi is in a position to make any concessions to Pakistan.

Hamid Gul, a former chief of Pakistan's military intelligence agency, told Reuters Television that Sharif had been prepared to reach out to India in the hope of mending ties before the spate of clashes put paid to that.

"It would've meant putting Kashmir on the back burner for the time being. But now all this has happened. And all the lobbies that have been talking about peace between India and Pakistan ... have been scuttled," Gul said.

(Additional reporting by NEW DELHI bureau; Editing by Robert Birsel)

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