NEW DELHI (Reuters) - Pakistan urged India on Thursday to tone down the “Pakistan bashing” over a spate of military clashes in Kashmir between the nuclear-armed neighbors, and again offered foreign minister-level talks to try to cool tensions.
“I think it is important not to let this cycle escalate into something which becomes even more ugly than it is today,” Pakistani High Commissioner to India Salman Bashir said in an interview with Reuters. “Let’s try to see if we can cool down and resume normal business.”
Three Pakistani and two Indian soldiers have been killed this month in the worst outbreak of tit-for-tat violence in Kashmir since India and Pakistan agreed to a ceasefire along a de facto border there nearly a decade ago.
India and Pakistan have fought three wars since partition in 1947, two of them over the Himalayan region that both claim.
Following public and media outrage after India said one of its soldiers had been decapitated, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh said there could be “no business as usual” with Pakistan, and the army chief said his commanders should retaliate if provoked.
Bashir said India could have worked with Pakistan to get to the bottom of what happened instead of “stirring raw emotions and upping the rhetoric”, adding that “Pakistan bashing has become fashionable” in India.
He told Reuters that the killing of the soldiers on the Indian side of the Line of Control (LoC) dividing Kashmir was not carried out by Pakistani troops.
“Such heinous acts ... are of course condemnable irrespective of where they happen and when they happen. But to say that these were done by Pakistan, that the Pakistan army was responsible, is something that we cannot agree to,” he said.
India blames the Lashkar-e-Taiba (LeT) militant group for that attack and says it enjoys official protection in Pakistan. Pakistan denies supporting the group. Indian officials have accused the LeT of stirring up the recent trouble on the border, a claim denied by its founder, Hafez Saeed.
Bashir said the Pakistani army and government could not speculate on who might have been behind the attack.
Pakistan’s government was plunged into a crisis this week by a Muslim cleric who led a mass protest in Islamabad to demand it resign. Bashir ruled out any link between the internal strife and the military skirmishes on the Kashmir border.
He pointed to an offer made on Wednesday by Pakistani Foreign Minister Hina Rabbani Khar to her Indian counterpart for talks to ratchet down the tension.
“Pakistan definitely desires de-escalation and definitely feels that the only way forward is through dialogue,” he said.
Indian-Pakistani relations had improved after plummeting in 2008 when gunmen killed 166 people in Mumbai in a three-day rampage that India blamed on LeT.
However, firing and small skirmishes are common along the internationally recognized 740-km (460-mile) LoC despite the ceasefire that was agreed in 2003.
Government officials on both sides have insisted over the past two days that the latest flare-up will not derail talks to improve relations, and experts say an escalation is unlikely.
Editing by Louise Ireland