THE brittle peace along India and Pakistan's disputed Kashmir border has been violently fractured again with the killing of three soldiers in as many days and allegations the troops' bodies have been mutilated.
The Muslim-majority border region has been contested between India and Pakistan since the countries came into existence. It has been the cause of three wars, and still fuels a long-running insurgency, but recent years have been more peaceful.
The de facto border is a heavily armed Line of Control arcing through the Himalayan region manned by tens of thousands of troops.
It is midwinter in Kashmir, almost all of the control line is snowbound and temperatures have been as low as minus 8 degrees. But on Sunday, a Pakistani soldier was shot and killed by Indian troops at Haji Pir, about 80 kilometres north of Islamabad. A Pakistani army statement claims Indian troops had, unprompted, crossed the line and ''physically raided'' a Pakistani base.
''Pakistan army troops effectively responded to the attack. One Pakistani soldier embraced martyrdom while another was critically injured.''
The Indian army claims the action was a ''controlled retaliation'' to ''unprovoked firing''.
On Tuesday, in Poonch district further south, Pakistani soldiers are reported to have encroached about 100 metres into Indian territory to ambush a patrol group, killing two soldiers. Indian media have reported their bodies were mutilated - their throats slit and one soldier decapitated.
A statement from the Indian army's Northern Command said the attack was a ''grave provocation'' by Pakistan. ''Pakistan army troops, having taken advantage of thick fog and mist in the forested area, were moving towards our posts when an alert area domination patrol spotted and engaged the intruders. The firefight between Pakistan and our troops continued for approximately half an hour, after which the intruders retreated towards their side of LoC [line of control]. Two soldiers, Lance Naik Hemraj and Lance Naik Sudhakar Singh, laid down their lives while fighting the Pakistani troops.''
The Indian army says the Pakistani military commits border incursions to help Islamist insurgents cross the border to launch attacks inside India.
Relations had been gradually improving over recent years, after the 2008 attacks on Mumbai by Pakistani terrorists cut off all communication and stalled the slow-moving peace process.
Since then, there has been progress in easing travel and trade restrictions, and, in the area of security, a number of minor ''confidence-building measures'' around sharing information. But the latest attacks, as well as the hysterical media reporting and bellicose rhetoric from both governments, could derail what progress has been made.