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Wednesday, May 26, 1999 Published at 11:10 GMT 12:10 UK

World: South Asia

High altitude stand-off

India predicts three months of fighting in Kargil

Following artillery exchanges between Indian troops and about 400 unidentified infiltrators in Indian-administered Kashmir, the deployment by Delhi of war-planes and helicopters is the most serious escalation for more than 20 years.

Kashmir Conflict
But as so often in Kashmir, the events of recent weeks have been subject to the usual claims and counter-claims by India and Pakistan.

The latest clashes are taking place on the so-called "Line of Control" (LOC), one of the most inhospitable lines of demarcation in the world.

The boundary divides Kashmir on a two-to-one basis, with India controlling the larger territory.

Click here to see a map of the area.

For six months of the year, heavy snow on the Line of Control makes the area uninhabitable.

[ image:  ]
Even the Indian army pulls out from time to time when the weather is exceptionally severe.

Skirmishes happen regularly, mostly in the summer, when the snows melt in the high passes.

Until now, the clashes have tended to be short-lived, with the insurgents reluctant to engage the Indian forces in heavy fighting.

Indian and Pakistan have fought three wars since they won independence from Britain in August 1947, two of them over Kashmir.

The Line of Control itself was originally established in January 1949 as a ceasefire line, following the end of the first Kashmir war. In July 1972, after a second conflict, the LOC was re-established in the Simla Agreement, with minor variations.

The LOC is monitored by 45 military observers of the United Nations Military Observer Group in India and Pakistan (UNMOGIP). According to the UN, their mission is "to observe, to the extent possible, developments pertaining to the strict observance of the ceasefire of December 1971 and to report these to the Secretary-General".

The Indian position

India has some 30,000 troops in the area, including special forces and paratroopers.

[ image: Air Commodore Subash Bhojwani and Brigadier Mohan Bhandari]
Air Commodore Subash Bhojwani and Brigadier Mohan Bhandari
The Indian army says that what it calls "infiltrators" are holding a 10km stretch of territory on the Indian side of the demarcation line - a region that includes the Dras, Kargil and Putali sectors of the Batelik mountain range.

The Indian authorities insist that the militants - believed to include the Tehrik-e-Jihad group - have received support from the Pakistani army.

According to the Indian military command, the militants in Kargil probably moved in as early as the end of April. Then, following an early thaw, the army says the "infiltrators" pressed on into Indian territory, occupying high-altitude positions (at about 5,000 metres).

The terrain has meant that any Indian army offensive is fraught with difficulty. Indeed, army sources suggest the fighting around Kargil could last at least three months.

The Pakistani position

Pakistan has adamantly denied the Indian allegations, saying Delhi is using claims of infiltration as a pretext for stepping up its presence in this highly-inflammable area.

We did not provide logistical or other support, says Islamabad; any militants operating on Indian territory are acting alone.

And Pakistani officials say they are ready for anything in the face of "Indian aggression".

[ image:  ]

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