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 Friday, 4 January, 2002, 16:44 GMT
Contentious Line of Control
The line runs through forested hills and inhospitable mountains
The line runs through forested hills and inhospitable mountains
By Charles Sanctuary

The Line of Control runs over 700km of forested hills and inhospitable terrain. Defying logic in some places, it splits villages in half and bisects mountains.

At one time, an estimated 80,000 troops from India and Pakistan faced each other in positions along its route - sometimes dug into mountainsides less than a 100 metres apart - sometimes further back, separated by peaks of over 5000 metres.

The line has been a source of conflict for almost the entire period of both states' existence.

The Line of Control today more or less matches the frontline at the end of the first war between India and Pakistan, over the control of Kashmir in 1947.

Then fighting took place in many areas in Kashmir. Along the northern section the final front came about after India forced Pakistan's soldiers back from territory beyond the town of Kargil, and the Srinagar to Leh highway.

Click here to see a map of the area.

War broke out again in Kashmir in 1965 but deadlock in the fighting meant the status quo remained until hostilities began again in 1971.

Simla Agreement

During that war - which saw East Pakistan break away to form Bangladesh - fighting spilt over into the disputed region and a number of positions changed hands.

India recorded the majority of minor gains - estimated at under 300 square miles of land - mainly in the Ladakh area along the northern portion of the line.

Peace negotiations and the subsequent Simla Agreement in 1972 then led to the establishment of the Line of Control, and pledges to respect its position until future bilateral negotiations found a solution to the problem.

However, despite the painstaking process of demarcation - field commanders exchanged over 20 maps over five months before its final course was agreed on - troops on the ground have fought over differences in interpretation ever since.

Artillery exchanges

Shelling has intensified over the past decade
Shelling has intensified over the past decade
Shelling has also intensified over the past decade with the advent of a separatist insurgency on India's side of the line.

Most of the exchanges of fire have taken place in the more populated southern areas to the south of Muzaffarabad or Tithwal, as each side either provides cover or tries to pick off infiltrators crossing the line.

The arrival of spring, when the snow melts and forces take up their forward positions, also traditionally sees an increase in the shelling. A typical month might mean exchanges of over 400,000 rounds.

Observers say the fighting has almost become ritualistic, with each side simply informing the other it is defending its positions.

Icy battle

Most of the fighting takes place in harsh terrain
Most of the fighting takes place in harsh terrain
At the time of the Simla negotiations, neither India or Pakistan pressed for an agreement on demarcating the glacier.

Some analysts say that may have been because neither country thought its harsh inhospitable terrain was worth occupying. Others say the issue was avoided as it would have meant drawing a line to a part of Kashmir administered by China but claimed by India.

Since the first ceasefire in 1949 the United Nations has maintained an observer presence along the line.

Even though India tolerates its presence, it no longer recognises its jurisdiction. It says in the Simla Agreement both parties agreed to solve the Kashmir issue bilaterally, without outside intervention.

Analysts say that some elements in both India and Pakistan may privately be willing, eventually, to accept the Line of Control as the internationally accepted boundary between them.

As yet, however, neither country has made an official move to do so and the unresolved matter of Kashmir and the Line of Control may continue to remain the obstacle to improved bilateral relations for some time to come.


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