July 16, 2015 / 1:14 PM / 4 years ago

Civilian deaths, drone, put chill back in India-Pakistan ties

ISLAMABAD (Reuters) - India and Pakistan exchanged gunfire and mortar bombs along their disputed frontier on Thursday, killing five civilians and injuring more than a dozen, Pakistan said, days after the leaders of the nuclear-armed rivals agreed to high-level talks.

An Indian Border Security Force (BSF) soldier patrols near the fenced border with Pakistan in Suchetgarh, southwest of Jammu in this January 14, 2013 file picture. REUTERS/Mukesh Gupta/Files

The escalating hostilities have chilled a brief thaw in ties after prime ministers Nawaz Sharif and Narendra Modi met in Russia, but appeared unlikely to thwart a planned meeting of national security advisers.

“We remain committed to steps that contribute to peace and tranquillity on the border,” Indian Foreign Secretary Subrahmanyam Jaishankar said after top officials huddled in New Delhi on Friday.

“However, there should be no doubt that any unprovoked firing from the Pakistani side would meet with an effective and forceful response from our forces.”

Five Pakistani civilians were killed “due to Indian unprovoked firing”, the Pakistani military said in statements on the clashes on the frontier in the disputed Kashmir region.

India said a women on its side of the frontier was killed in Pakistani firing the previous day.

Majority-Hindu India and Muslim Pakistan have fought three wars since becoming separate nations in 1947, two of them over Kashmir, which they both claim in full but rule in part.

Soldiers along their heavily militarized boundary have regularly traded fire for decades but clashes become less frequent after a 2003 ceasefire in Kashmir.

Hopes for warmer ties were raised last week when Modi and Sharif met on the sidelines of a summit in Ufa, Russia and agreed that their national security advisers would hold talks.

Modi also agreed to visit Pakistan in 2016.

India said Pakistani troops fired at five of its forward bases and six villagers on Wednesday, when the woman was killed.

On Wednesday, the Pakistani military said it had shot down an Indian surveillance drone. A photograph released by the military appeared to show a small, unarmed model.

The Indians denied the drone was theirs, with Jaishankar saying it appeared to be “commercially available” Chinese design.

Relations between the neighbors nosedived after Pakistan-based militants attacked the Indian city of Mumbai in 2008, killing 166 people.

India believes Pakistan supports militants fighting security forces in the Indian part of Kashmir and launching attacks in Indian cities.

Pakistan denies that.

Sharif made improving relations with India a cornerstone of his 2013 election campaign but many army commanders remain suspicious of India.

Modi, elected in 2014, belongs to a Hindu nationalist political party and is seen as hawkish on relations with Pakistan.

Additional reporting by Fayaz Bukhari in Srinagar and Krista Mahr in New Delhi; Editing by Robert Birsel and Douglas Busvine

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