NEW DELHI: India lodged a diplomatic protest Tuesday with Pakistan over an attack on an army post in the disputed Kashmir region in which five of its soldiers were killed, Defence Minister A. K. Antony said.
“The government of India has lodged a strong protest with the government of Pakistan through diplomatic channels,” Antony told lawmakers.
“The attack was carried out by 20 heavily-armed terrorists, along with persons in Pakistani army uniform,” he added.
To lodge its protest over the soldiers’ killing, India summoned Pakistan’s deputy envoy to New Delhi, an Indian government source said.
The development came hours after India accused Pakistani troops of involvement in the killing.
The attack on a post in Poonch came just as India and Pakistan were preparing to resume peace talks broken off since January when tensions rose following the beheading of an Indian soldier in a border clash, also in Poonch.
“The Pakistan deputy high commissioner was called a short while ago and a strong protest was lodged by the government over the incident at the LoC,” the source said, referring to the Line of Control dividing Kashmir.
Pakistan has denied any involvement in the incident.
The five were killed late Monday at an outpost some 200 kilometres south of Srinagar, Indian officials said.
The picturesque Himalayan territory of Kashmir is divided between India and Pakistan by a UN-monitored de facto border known as the Line of Control (LOC), but is claimed in full by both countries.
“Pakistani troops simply attacked the Indian post, violating the ceasefire, and they killed five of our soldiers,” a senior army official in Indian-administered Kashmir told AFP on condition of anonymity.
Another Indian army official in Kashmir said only one soldier had escaped with his life in the ambush of an army patrol.
“This was a patrol party of six soldiers. We have had fatalities and one has survived the ambush,” he said.
The Pakistan army however denied responsibility.
“No Pakistani troops either crossed into India nor carried out any unprovoked firing. The Indian allegations are totally baseless,” a Pakistani military spokesman told AFP in Islamabad.
The Foreign Office also rejected allegations of Pakistan’s involvement as “baseless and unfounded”, saying the country’s was committed to its ceasefire promises and wanted to resume peace talks with India soon.
“Our military authorities have confirmed that there had been no exchange of fire that could have resulted in such an incident,” the Foreign Ministry said in a statement. “These are baseless and unfounded allegations.”
“Pakistan is committed to a constructive, sustained and result-oriented process of engagement with India and looks forward to an early resumption of the dialogue process.”
Hopes of progress in the beleaguered peace process have risen in recent weeks but Omar Abdullah, the state’s chief minister, said the attack would undermine efforts at rapprochement.
“Was briefed early this morning about news that 5 of our soldiers had been killed on the LOC. My heartfelt condolences to their next of kin,” Abdullah tweeted.
India and Pakistan have fought three wars since their independence from Britain in 1947, two of them over Kashmir.
A deadly flare-up along the LoC border in January brought low-level peace talks to a halt which had only just resumed after a three-year hiatus sparked by the 2008 attacks in Mumbai that killed 166 people.
However, the election of Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif in May’s polls has fuelled expectations of a rapprochement.
Sujatha Singh, India’s new foreign secretary, said last Thursday that India would be “picking up the threads” of peace talks with the new Pakistani government.
Singh however said that any dialogue with Islamabad “presupposes an environment free of violence and of terror”.
Speaking on the same day, Sharif reiterated his desire to boost ties with India and included Kashmir on a list of issues that had to be tackled.
“We will boost trade, we will boost business and will boost investment with India,” the premier told reporters in Karachi.
“We will also try our best to solve all longstanding issues with India, including Kashmir.”
While there was no immediate comment from the Indian government about the diplomatic impact of Monday’s incident, the main oppposition Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) said talks could not take place in such an environment.
“Pakistan has killed our soldiers today and this is becoming a routine. They are very aggressive…why are we holding talks with such country?” Yashwant Sinha, one of the BJP’s leaders, told lawmakers.
“It is time we give a powerful reply. Our army is not weak. We should not ignore this deadly incident.”
Indian analysts said the attack would undermine New Delhi’s trust in the new Sharif government in Islamabad.
“This incident will have a serious impact on the relations between India and Pakistan, said Lalit Mansingh, a former foreign secretary.
“It shows that maybe the Pakistani leadership is not fully on board to hold talks.”