The number of shooting incidents between Pakistani and Indian troops along the disputed Kashmir border has more than doubled over the past year to a seven-year high, reliable Pakistani and diplomatic sources reported here today.
Authoritative sources reported there has been an average of one cross-border shooting incident every three days so far this year compared to one a week in 1980. Last month -- the high so far for the year -- saw three reports of shooting incidents every two days, they added.
According to reliable sources here, the number of shooting incidents along the cease-fire line began ballooning in July.
While the U.N. observer force that oversees the cease-fire line -- which India prefers to call the line of control -- refused to detail the exact number of violations, they confirmed that new tops for the year had been reached in July, August and October after the May and June period during which there were few if any shooting incidents.
According to reports circulating here, one of the exchanges was a 16-hour encounter that ranged along a seven-mile stretch of the front near the town of Kotli in the central portion of the cease-fire line.
There have been no reports of either Indian or Pakistani soldiers being killed or wounded in the latest flare-ups, though India says an Army captain died in a firing incident in July. The Defense Ministry, however, has not released any details on his death, which was widely reported in the Indian press.
All the shooting incidents are reported by Pakistan since India has refused since 1971 to make any complaints to the U.N. observers. India also restricts the observers to field stations on its side while Pakistan allows them free access to its troops along the line.
Nonetheless, diplomats here and in New Delhi believe the increase is real and reflects worsening tensions on a border along which squabbles break out over the most minor incidents. In September, for instance, U.N. observers had to settle a dispute over the use of a dwindling source of water that Pakistani and Indian troops on the far northeast edge of the line had been sharing for the past 10 years.
Pakistan's president, Mohammed Zia ul-Haq has dismissed the cross-border firings as "routine" events when opposing forces face each other "eyeball-to-eyeball" across a contested line.
The director general of the Institute of Strategic Studies here, Noor Ahmed Husain, however, called the increase in shooting incidents, which he blamed on India, part of "a war of nerves against Pakistan by India and the Soviet Union."
He connected them to Afghan bombings and ground attacks on villages on Pakistan's western border. Pakistan has recorded more than 300 violations of its air space and at least a dozen ground incursions from Afghanistan since Soviet forces invaded that country in December 1979.
Currently, the two neighboring nations that have fought three wars -- two over control of Kashmir -- since they gained independence 34 years ago are conducting a diplomatic waltz over Zia's surprising offer in September of a nonaggression pact between India and Pakistan.
Pakistani Foreign Secretary Riaz Paracha brought new details of Pakistan's offer to New Delhi Saturday, but India still has not replied to it. He told Indian officials the Zia offer was made "in good faith" particularly because of the strained relations between the two countries.