ISLAMABAD, Pakistan -- Indian and Pakistani soldiers traded gunfire in the disputed territory of Kashmir for the second time in three days on Tuesday, this time leading to Indian claims that the Pakistanis had killed two Indian soldiers.
The surge in fatal combat is a troubling development in Kashmir, a disputed mountainous area that has been a focus of bitter tensions between the neighbors over six decades. A cease-fire has been in place for almost 10 years.
But while both sides have exchanged angry accusations of cross-border infiltration, the incidents have received muted news coverage and showed few signs of escalating into a diplomatic crisis.
The Indian military said fighting erupted on Tuesday on its side of the de facto border, known as the Line of Control, when an Indian patrol clashed with Pakistani troops who had crept across under cover of fog. The Pakistanis retreated after a brief firefight in which two Indian soldiers were killed, an Indian Army officer said.
"The government of India considers the incident as a provocative action, and we condemn it," the Indian Defense Ministry said in a statement. "The government will take up the incident with the Pakistan government. We expect Islamabad to honor the cease-fire agreement strictly."
Pakistan's military quickly rejected that version of events. A military official, speaking on the customary condition of anonymity, called it "Indian propaganda" to divert attention from a clash on Sunday in which a Pakistani soldier reportedly died.
"Pakistan military officials deny Indian allegation of unprovoked firing," the official said in a text message sent to journalists. The official military spokesman was not available for further comment.
It is difficult to discern the truth about clashes in the heights of Kashmir, partly because the terrain is so rugged and remote, but mostly because the area is tightly militarized on both sides and is largely out of bounds for reporters.
But the latest salvo of physical and public relations exchanges did highlight the emotional pull of the Kashmir conflict for the militaries in both countries, which have fought two major wars over the territory. Less clear was whether the skirmishes would have any effect on broader bilateral political and economic initiatives.
After high-level diplomatic visits over the past year, the rivals have loosened visa restrictions for business travelers and have taken tentative steps to unlock vast trade potential. The advances have come at a time when Pakistani public opinion has been largely preoccupied with anger toward the United States, particularly after the American commando raid in Abbottabad in May 2011 in which Osama bin Laden was killed.
Tensions have eased significantly in recent months, but a rise in American drone strikes against militant targets in the tribal belt, which continued on Tuesday, could threaten that.
Early Tuesday, unmanned aircraft controlled by the Central Intelligence Agency killed at least 12 people in two separate attacks in North Waziristan, the main hub of militant activity, said a senior security official based in the tribal belt. It was the fourth of day of drone attacks this month, a sharp escalation over the strike rate late last year.
In the first episode, several drones fired on a house in the Mir Ali district, killing eight people, including Sheik Yasin al-Kuwaiti, a senior Qaeda figure, said the official, who spoke on the customary condition of anonymity. "Eight missiles were fired into the compound where he was living with his family," the official said. "The house has been turned into rubble."
Fifteen minutes later, a second strike on another house in the same area killed four people and wounded two, local tribesmen said. All of the dead were described as local Islamist militants.
Ismail Khan contributed reporting from Peshawar, Pakistan.world
This article originally appeared in The New York Times.