India, Pakistan agree to ease tensions in Kashmir

NEW DELHI (AP) — India and Pakistan agreed on Wednesday to ease tensions in disputed Kashmir by strictly observing a decade-old cease-fire after five soldiers were killed in recent clashes, an Indian army spokesman said. The military commanders of the two armies spoke by telephone for 10 minutes and reached an understanding not to allow the situation to escalate further, spokesman Col. Jagdeep Dahiya said. Three Pakistani soldiers and two Indian soldiers have died in the worst bout of fighting in the region since the cease-fire was signed in 2003. India said one of its soldiers was beheaded. The series of tit-for-tat attacks had threatened to ratchet up tensions between the two nuclear-armed neighbors. Earlier Wednesday, Pakistan accused Indian troops of killing one of its soldiers along the cease-fire line a day earlier. The Pakistani army said the shooting was unprovoked and occurred in the Hot Spring and Jandot sectors of Pakistan-held Kashmir. However, Col. R.K. Palta, another Indian army spokesman, said Pakistani troops fired at two Indian positions using small arms and mortar fire on Tuesday night in the Poonch sector of the Indian portion of Kashmir. "Our troops didn't fire at all," Palta said. Lt. Gen. K.T. Parnaik, an Indian commander in charge of the troubled area, said, "We want to ensure that we dominate the line of control and don't let them (Pakistanis) provoke us into making it a hot line of control." In a sign of the rising tensions, Pakistani Foreign Minister Hina Rabbani Khar accused India of "warmongering" in a speech in New York on Tuesday. In New Delhi, Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh said his country's relations with archrival Pakistan "cannot be business as usual." India and Pakistan have been rivals for decades and have fought three wars, two of them over Kashmir. The Himalayan region is divided between the two countries, but each claims it in its entirety. Senior Pakistani and Indian officials are trying to limit the potential damage from the recent clashes to relations, which have slowly warmed since Pakistani militants killed 166 people in the Indian coastal city of Mumbai. They suspended peace talks after the Mumbai attack, but both countries have economic and other reasons for wanting better ties. Still, the fighting along the Kashmir border highlights how easily simmering tension can flare into conflict. The biggest risk remains an attack by militants like the one in Mumbai that would likely scuttle the reconciliation process once again. The tension has disrupted cultural and sporting ties. Performances by a Pakistani theater group were canceled in the western Indian city of Jaipur and in the Indian capital following protests by hard-line Hindu groups. On Tuesday, nine Pakistani hockey players who came to India to participate in a tournament were sent home. The tension comes as political turmoil is increasing in Islamabad, with Pakistan's top court ordering the arrest of the country's prime minister in a corruption case, officials said, and a firebrand cleric rallying thousands of people in the capital against the government. On Monday, Indian army chief Gen. Bikram Singh accused Pakistan of planning the attacks that left the two Indian soldiers dead - making clear he felt it was not an unintentional skirmish - and warned of possible retaliation. "The attack on Jan. 8 was premeditated, a pre-planned activity. Such an operation requires planning, detailed reconnaissance," Singh told reporters. He said India reserved the right to retaliate at a "time and place of its choice." Singh urged his troops to be "aggressive and offensive in the face of provocation and fire" from Pakistan. He said the alleged beheading of the Indian soldier was "unacceptable and unpardonable" and accused Pakistan of violating the "ethics of warfare." The Kashmir fighting began Jan. 6 when Pakistan accused Indian troops of raiding an army post and killing a soldier. India denied launching the attack and said its troops had fired across the border in response to Pakistani shelling that had destroyed an Indian home. Two days later, India said Pakistani soldiers, taking advantage of heavy fog, crossed the de facto border and killed two Indian soldiers, beheading one. On Jan. 10, Pakistan said Indian troops had fired across the border and killed another of its soldiers. The Pakistani army said the shooting was unprovoked, while the Indian military said its troops were responding to fire from across the frontier. Pakistan denies India's allegations and has suggested U.N. monitors in the region conduct an inquiry - a call that India rejected, saying it didn't want to internationalize the issue. Pakistan and India struck a cease-fire agreement over Kashmir in November 2003. There have been periodic violations of the cease-fire, but the incidents during the past week have been the most serious. In Pakistan, the Supreme Court's arrest order for Prime Minister Raja Pervaiz Ashraf on Tuesday was likely to inflame antagonism between the government and the court. The order is linked to allegations of corruption in bidding on private power stations. Ashraf previously served as minister for water and power. The arrest order could provide ammunition for Tahir-ul-Qadri, a Muslim cleric who is leading massive protests in Islamabad to press for the removal of the government, which he says is made up of corrupt politicians. ___ Abbot reported from Islamabad.

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