A total of five suspected militants and one Indian soldier have been killed in fierce fighting in Kashmir over the past two days, the Indian army says, amid an escalation of violence in the disputed territory following the cancelation of high-level talks between New Delhi and Islamabad.
Speaking on condition of anonymity, an Indian army spokesman said three militants and one Indian soldier were killed in a gunfight along the Line of Control (LoC) in Kupwara district of Jammu and Kashmir on Monday.
The spokesman also said two other militants had earlier been killed in a gun battle which began on Sunday after government troops noticed suspicious movement near the LoC – the de facto border that separates the disputed Kashmir region between nuclear-armed rivals Pakistan and India.
The Indian army announced that the operation was still in progress.
The fatalities took place days after New Delhi pulled the plug on a meeting between its foreign minister and her Pakistani counterpart set for next week on the sidelines of the UN General Assembly, just 24 hours after saying it would go ahead.
The Foreign Ministry in New Delhi said its decision was to protest the killing of Indian security personnel in Kashmir and a Pakistani postage stamp it said was “glorifying” an anti-India fighter who Indian forces had killed in the disputed Himalayan region last year.
Islamabad immediately rejected New Delhi’s charges as excuses to enable it to avoid holding talks before national elections next year.
Tensions are high in Indian-controlled Kashmir, where the Muslim-majority population stages regular protests against the Indian rule, demanding autonomy from New Delhi or a merger with Pakistan.
New Delhi accuses Islamabad of supporting pro-independence fighters, an allegation rejected by the Pakistani government. Islamabad, in turn, is critical of India’s heavy military deployment to Kashmir, some 500,000 soldiers, and its crackdown against the region’s Muslim population.
Armed battles between Indian forces and militants over the years have killed nearly 70,000 people, mostly civilians.
Kashmir has been divided between India and Pakistan but claimed in full by both since the two partitioned and gained independence from Britain in 1947. The two countries have fought three wars over the disputed territory. Despite a 2003 ceasefire agreement, sporadic skirmishes continue in Kashmir.