SRINAGAR India (Reuters) - Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi accused Pakistan on Tuesday of waging “proxy war” by sending militants to attack India and he used a trip to the disputed Kashmir region to stress that reconciliation between the nuclear-armed neighbors needs peace.
Making his second visit since his election triumph in May to the northern region - whose territory has been disputed since a war between India and Pakistan that followed their independence in 1947 - Modi vowed to strengthen India’s armed forces.
“The neighboring country has lost the strength to fight a conventional war but continues to engage in the proxy war of terrorism,” Modi told officers and men from the army and air force in the Himalayan region of Leh.
The Hindu nationalist politician was elected by a landslide on promises to restore India’s economic and military prowess and meet the security challenge posed by a rising China and long-running tension with Pakistan.
Yet he surprised many observers by inviting South Asian leaders - including Pakistan’s Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif - to his inauguration in a bid to bolster neglected regional ties.
There are regular clashes on the Line of Control that divides Indian- and Pakistan-controlled Kashmir, however, and Modi has made it clear that bilateral dialogue depends on the guns falling silent.
Modi, whose speech to troops in Leh was televised, did not give any details of Pakistan’s “proxy war” but India has for years complained that Pakistan backs separatist militants who slip in from Pakistani-controlled Kashmir to stage attacks.
Pakistan says it only gives political support to the Muslim people of Kashmir who it says face human rights abuses at the hands of Indian troops. India denies that.
India also wants faster prosecution of Pakistan-based militants accused of plotting the 2008 attacks on its financial capital, Mumbai, in which 166 people were killed. Pakistan says it is all it can to act against those against whom there is evidence.
In a second speaking stop, Modi went to Kargil, the scene of an undeclared war in 1999 when Pakistani troops infiltrated Indian-controlled Kashmir without the knowledge of Sharif, who was prime minister at the time.
“The patriotism of the people of Kargil inspires the people of India. I bow to this land and to the people,” Modi said, paying homage to his political mentor Atal Bihari Vajpayee who was premier during the Kargil conflict.
In his government’s maiden budget last month, Modi boosted defense spending by 12 percent in 2014-15 over the previous year, when it was held at 2.04 trillion rupees ($33.35 billion dollar).
Sharif has made improving relations with India a cornerstone of his policy, yet Pakistan’s powerful military and security establishment is less keen to do so, also seeking to assert its primacy in external affairs.
Sharif, meanwhile, faces a challenge from dissident cleric Tahir ul-Qadri who aims to topple his government and has announced that his followers would stage a major demonstration in Islamabad on Thursday.
Another anti-government protest will be led in Pakistan on the same day by opposition leader Imran Khan who is demanding electoral reforms and an investigation into last year’s polls, which Sharif won in a landslide victory.
(1 US dollar = 61.1700 Indian rupee)
Writing by Rupam Jain Nair; Editing by Douglas Busvine and Robert Birsel