India accuses Pakistan over cross-border raid that killed five soldiers

Indian army personnel stand near the coffins of soldiers who were allegedly killed by Pakistani intruders Wednesday. Jaipal Singh / EPA

NEW DELHI - India for the first time directly accused the Pakistan army of involvement in an ambush that killed five Indian soldiers, and hinted on Thursday at retaliation for possibly the worst such attack since the neighbors signed a ceasefire in 2003.

"This incident will have consequences on our behavior on the Line of Control and for our relations with Pakistan," Defence Minister A.K. Antony told parliament on Thursday, referring to the de facto border dividing the disputed Himalayan territory of Kashmir.

"It is now clear that specialist troops of Pakistan army were involved in this attack," Antony said, offering the Indian government's strongest statement to date on the incident.

Six soldiers on patrol near their base about 450 yards from the Line of Control were ambushed in the early hours of Tuesday. Five were shot dead and one was wounded, army officials said.

While tit-for-tat shelling and machinegun fire is common along the disputed border, cross-border attacks by troops are rare.

Pakistan has strongly denied any involvement in the killing of the five Indian soldiers and has said it is committed to the ceasefire agreement. Pakistani military spokesmen were not immediately available for comment on the latest Indian statement.

On Thursday, a Pakistani civilian was wounded in cross-border firing in Kashmir, the Pakistani military said, accusing Indian forces of "unprovoked" shooting. There was no immediate comment from the Indian military.

Antony's accusation was significant as in his first comments on the incident on Tuesday, he had been careful not to directly implicate the Pakistani army and had referred instead to militants accompanied by "persons dressed in Pakistan army uniforms."

Prime Minister Manmohan Singh's government has been quietly working with Islamabad to relaunch stalled peace talks, possibly as early as this month.

Islamabad has also been pushing for a meeting between Singh and his new Pakistani counterpart, Nawaz Sharif, in New York in September, a proposal New Delhi has said it is considering.

Indian government officials said on Thursday no decision had been taken on resuming the peace talks at a senior bureaucrat level or on the proposed meeting between the two prime ministers.

An Indian Army soldier stands guard as he patrols near the Line of Control (LoC) of Pakistan occupied Kashmir, Thursday. Jaipal Singh / EPA

India's main opposition Bharatiya Janata Party accused the government of trying to play down the attack and of being too soft on Pakistan, a damaging accusation ahead of what is expected to be a closely fought election, due by next May.

"They wanted to preserve their relations with Pakistan but they ended up with egg on their faces," said Brahma Chellaney, professor of strategic studies at the Centre for Policy Research, a think-tank in New Delhi.

Indian army officials have said the attack was carried out by Pakistan's Border Action Team. The unit includes members of Pakistan's commando Special Services Group and irregular forces including members of Lashkar-e-Taiba, a Pakistan-based militant group, the army officers said.

"We all know that nothing happens from (the) Pakistan side of the Pakistan Line of Control without support, assistance, facilitation and often, direct involvement of the Pakistan army," Antony said in his statement to parliament on Thursday.

"Our restraint should not be taken for granted, nor should the capacity of armed forces and resolve of the government to uphold the sanctity of the Line of Control ever be doubted," he said.

The nuclear-armed rivals have fought three wars since becoming independent from Britain in 1947, two of them over Kashmir.

But defense analysts have said they do not expect the latest incident to trigger a major retaliation from India.

Relations between the two neighbors have been showing sign of improvement in the past year after souring in 2008 when Pakistan-based gunmen attacked India's financial capital of Mumbai, killing 166 people.