RENEE MONTAGNE, HOST:
India and Pakistan have fought wars over a disputed region in the Himalayas. And once again, this week, tensions are running high there. Indian and Pakistani troops have been exchanging heavy gunfire along the border, known as the Line of Control; with several soldiers killed on both sides. Each country has its own version of what set off the deadly fighting when they're supposed to be abiding by a cease-fire. NPR's Julie McCarthy reports.
JULIE MCCARTHY, BYLINE: Small skirmishes are not uncommon between India and Pakistan, which have fought three wars over the contested region of Kashmir that both sides claim. But on Tuesday, India reported what it called the inhumane and barbaric treatment of two of its slain solders, who were found dead on the Indian side of the Line of Control.
The Indian Army said their bodies had been badly mutilated. Pakistan denied any cross-border incursion or that its soldiers were responsible. But India's senior officials said that Pakistan was in a state of denial. There have been conflicting reports about whether one of the soldiers had been beheaded, but the Indian Army spokesman, Jagdish Dahiya, said there is no doubt.
COL. JAGDISH DAHIYA: There is no contradiction. The bodies were mutilated, a man was beheaded, and there was mutilation marks on the other body also.
MCCARTHY: Indian military commentator Uday Bhaskar says the conduct is more in keeping with the practice of non-state actors, including Islamist extremists. And he says Pakistan's links with groups such as Lashkar-e-Toiba, Jaish-e-Mohammed and other terrorist outfits has hardened attitudes in India.
UDAY BHASKAR: And despite India trying to convey upon them - whether it is Mumbai 2008, or otherwise - that there is no firm commitment to say that OK, we will stop supporting or engaging with terror groups, whether it is the Lashkar or Jaish or the Haqqanis. And that is where this interpretation in India, that this is the beginning of a long haul - which I think is very, very discouraging.
MCCARTHY: But Bhaskar says absent a smoking gun, India cannot say with certainly, who perpetrated the attack. Regardless, he says, there is public revulsion.
BHASKAR: I think what has caused the indignation in India, it's not just the death of a soldier but the degrading, the brutalization of a dead soldier.
MCCARTHY: Pakistan's foreign minister, Hina Rabbani, said the cross-border dispute should not derail the ongoing peace dialogue with India.
HINA RABBANI: We have a commitment to abide by the cease-fire, and to pursue mechanisms which exist to be able to deal with issues like this, and problems like this. And these are two countries which have had immense problems, in the past.
MCCARTHY: A report in "The Hindu" newspaper suggested that the Indian Army may have provoked the most recent clashes. The paper said when a 70-year-old grandmother managed to cross the Line of Control - unhindered - in September, to join her family in Pakistani-administered Kashmir, Indian officials became alarmed. She had exposed vulnerabilities in the defenses, and a new observation post was ordered built. Pakistan said that violated of the two nations' 10-year-old cease-fire agreement and fired warning shots, including mortars that killed three villagers.
"The Hindu" reports that India refused to stop the construction, saying it posed no threat to Pakistan. The Indian Army spokesman denied the report. But analyst Uday Bhaskar says the story was written by a highly credible journalist; and what began as an innocuous incident, that spiraled into clashes, is plausible. Julie McCarthy, NPR News, New Delhi.
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