ISLAMABAD (AP) — Pakistani and Indian troops traded fire in a hotly contested area along the Kashmir border where the nuclear-armed rivals fought a bloody conflict over a decade ago, military officials said Wednesday. The Pakistani military said one of its army captains was killed and another soldier seriously wounded in the fighting.
The two sides have accused each other of a series of deadly attacks along the border over the last two weeks that have threatened to derail an expressed desire from the leaders of both countries to improve relations after decades of war and animosity.
The fighting Tuesday night in the vicinity of Kargil, where Pakistan and India fought a three-month conflict in 1999, could raise tensions even further. Both sides accused the other of starting the fighting.
A Pakistani military official accused Indian troops of “unprovoked” shelling starting at 11:15 p.m. local time Tuesday night in Shakma sector in Pakistan-held Kashmir, across the border from Kargil on the Indian side. An army captain was killed and another soldier was seriously wounded. Pakistani troops responded to the shelling, and the exchange of fire continued for three hours, the official said.
An Indian army officer said Indian troops in Kargil only responded after Pakistani soldiers fired upon their positions using mortars and automatic weapons. The officials both spoke on condition of anonymity in line with military policy.
The Indian army accused Pakistani troops of firing into Kargil last week as well, but the Pakistani military denied the allegation. There was no such denial on Wednesday, meaning it was the first confirmed fighting in Kargil in years.
Kashmir is divided between Pakistan and India but claimed in its entirety by both. The countries have fought two major wars over the disputed territory since they both gained independence from Britain in 1947.
The Kargil conflict started in May 1999 after the Pakistani army chief at the time, Gen. Pervez Musharraf, quietly sent soldiers into Kargil. The fighting cost hundreds of lives and could have led to nuclear war. The U.S. helped mediate an end to the conflict in July.
A 2003 cease-fire agreement has largely calmed the Kashmir border. But the two sides occasionally accuse each other of violating it by firing mortars or gunshots, and several soldiers were killed on each side in January in cross-border attacks.
The latest round of violence began about two weeks ago when, according to the Indian military, 20 heavily armed militants and Pakistani soldiers crossed the Kashmir border and killed five Indian troops.
The Pakistani military has denied that its soldiers killed any Indian troops and accused Indian soldiers of killing a pair of civilians and now an army captain. It has said eight civilians and five soldiers have also been wounded.
Pakistani Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif has expressed his hope that the recent violence wouldn’t derail efforts to improve relations between the two countries. He is especially interested in increasing cross-border trade to jumpstart Pakistan’s economy.
But his Indian counterpart, Manmohan Singh, has said in the wake of the recent attacks that ties with Pakistan could only improve once it prevented Islamic militants from using its territory to target India.
India feels that Islamabad is not doing enough to rein in the militants. It says the Pakistani military has nurtured the militants to fight a covert war over Kashmir, though Pakistan denies the claim.
The militant group, Lashkar-e-Taiba, which has strong historical ties to Pakistani intelligence, is widely blamed for carrying out an attack on the Indian city of Mumbai in 2008 that killed 166 people.
Sharif has shown little inclination to crack down on the group, which is based in his party’s stronghold of Punjab province.
Pakistan’s foreign ministry said India’s deputy high commissioner was summoned on Wednesday in protest of the death of the army captain.
“While Pakistan is committed to a constructive, sustained and result-oriented process of engagement it calls upon India to take serious and credible measures to prevent further cease-fire violations and reduce tensions,” the ministry said in a statement.
Associated Press writers Munir Ahmed in Islamabad and Aijaz Hussain in Srinagar, India, contributed to this report.