India-Pakistan truce takes hold in Kashmir

A ceasefire took hold Thursday in disputed Kashmir after the Indian and Pakistani armies agreed to halt deadly cross-border firing that had threatened to unravel a fragile peace process.

As the foreign minister of Pakistan appealed for talks with her Indian counterpart to defuse tensions, senior officers reported that calm had returned to the region after violence in which five soldiers were killed.

A deal to end the cross-border firing was reached during a 10-minute phone call on Wednesday between two generals, India's Vinod Bhatia and Pakistan's Ashfaq Nadeem.

"No fresh incidents of firing or violation of the ceasefire agreement have been reported from the Line of Control," Rajesh Kalia, the spokesman for the Indian army's Northern Command, told AFP.

At a cabinet meeting in New Delhi, Defence Minister A.K. Antony informed his colleagues that "tension has eased" since top military officials on both sides agreed to "de-escalate" the crisis, the Press Trust of India news agency said.

Pakistan says three of its soldiers have been killed in firing by Indian troops since January 6 along the de facto border between the countries in Kashmir known as the Line of Control.

India in turn has accused Pakistani troops of killing two of its soldiers on January 8, one of whom was beheaded.

Pakistan has denied any responsibility for the attack, leading to frustration in New Delhi where politicians and military officials have struck an increasingly hardline tone while requesting that the severed head be returned.

India's army chief told commanders to respond "aggressively" to any Pakistani firing, the prime minister said there could be no "business as usual" while an opposition leader called for India "get at least 10 heads from the other side".

Speaking on Wednesday in New York, Pakistan's Foreign Minister Hina Rabbani Khar accused India of "warmongering" and its officials of competing against each other to sound more hostile.

"Unfortunately this LoC incident has obviously created questions, but we still believe that dialogue must be the means to resolve this or any issue," Khar said at the Council on Foreign Relations think-tank.

With the Indian army itching to avenge the beheading, there had been growing signs that a peace process that is only just getting back on track after the 2008 Mumbai attacks could become a victim of the Kashmir flare-up.

On Tuesday India was meant to begin allowing Pakistanis over the age of 65 to obtain a visa on arrival in the western border state of Punjab but the programme has been put on hold indefinitely.

Nine Pakistani players were also withdrawn from a new field hockey league in India and asked to return home.

Increasing trade had also been the centrepiece of recent efforts to build links between the countries, but Indian trade group ASSOCHAM estimated commerce could fall by 20 percent in 2012-13 due to the border problems.

"The on-going atmosphere will have its own repercussions and will be reflected on cross-border trade. Also, Indian businessmen and small merchants who were contemplating trade relations with Pakistan have put their plans on hold," ASSOCHAM said.

Some commentators have accused the mild-mannered Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and his government of "caving in" to hardliners.

"Over the past few days, as an increasingly jingoistic clamour has been worked up in television studios and outside, the government has passed up every opportunity to underline the imperative of keeping the bilateral dialogue process separate," said an editorial in Thursday's Indian Express.

India and Pakistan have fought two of their three wars since independence over Kashmir.

A ceasefire, which is periodically violated by both sides, has been in place along the Line of Control since 2003.

  • COMMENT: Xenophobia rears its ugly head in Singapore once more Sat, Apr 19, 2014
    COMMENT: Xenophobia rears its ugly head in Singapore once more

    Kirsten Han is a Singaporean blogger, journalist and filmmaker. She is also involved in the We Believe in Second Chances campaign for the abolishment of the death penalty. A social media junkie, she tweets at @kixes. The views expressed are … Continue reading →

  • Driving a $900,000 Porsche 918 Spyder to the future Sat, Apr 19, 2014
    Driving a $900,000 Porsche 918 Spyder to the future

    It’s more than just its inherent speed, or the whooshing noise that fills the cabin like a school choir jamming with James Hetfield. It’s what it represents in an industry full of skeptics. It’s a portal into the future – a time capsule left by some mad scientist born decades too soon. It’s something that shouldn’t exist. And yet it does.

  • COMMENT: Xenophobia rears its ugly head in Singapore once more
    COMMENT: Xenophobia rears its ugly head in Singapore once more

    Kirsten Han is a Singaporean blogger, journalist and filmmaker. She is also involved in the We Believe in Second Chances campaign for the abolishment of the death penalty. A social media junkie, she tweets at @kixes. The views expressed are … Continue reading →

  • 5 Unanswered Questions About Jesus
    5 Unanswered Questions About Jesus

    As Christians worldwide gather for Easter to celebrate their belief in the death and rebirth of Jesus, researchers continue to delve into the mysteries that surround the man. The following are five questions about Jesus that, for now, at least, remain unanswered. In 2008, astronomer Dave Reneke argued that the Star of Bethlehem (a celestial event long associated with Jesus' birth) may have been Venus and Jupiter coming together to form a bright light in the sky. Other researchers have claimed that a similar conjunction between Saturn and Jupiter occurred in October of 7 B.C. Still others have claimed that Jesus was born in the spring, based on stories about shepherds watching over their flocks in fields on the night of Jesus' birth — something they would have done in the spring, not the winter.