NEW DELHI/SRINAGAR, India (Reuters) - India's army said on Tuesday that Pakistani troops had helped a group of 30 to 40 insurgents stage the biggest incursion in Kashmir in years, linking it to a plan to push fighters into the region as foreign forces withdraw from neighboring Afghanistan.
Army chief General Bikram Singh's remarks were the first direct allegation against Pakistan since the heavily-armed fighters crossed the Line of Control in Kashmir last month in a setback for a government already seen as soft and indecisive.
The men were holed up in an abandoned village in the Keran sector for nearly a fortnight, an Indian army source earlier told Reuters. That prompted comparisons with the Kargil conflict further north in 1999, when hundreds of Pakistan-backed irregular troops occupied bunkers along a vast swath of the frontier.
"With the eyeball-to-eyeball deployment along the Line of Control, it is well-nigh impossible for the terrorists to do any activity without the knowledge of the Pakistani army," Singh told the Times Now television.
India and Pakistan have fought three wars since independence from Britain in 1947, two of them over Kashmir. The two armies frequently exchanged artillery fire across the Himalayan region for years until a 2003 ceasefire that has been fraying in recent months.
Pakistan was trying to push more fighters into Kashmir before winter sets in, Singh separately told NDTV, ahead of the withdrawal of foreign forces from Afghanistan.
Indian intelligence officials have warned that militant groups that have been fighting in Afghanistan for several years have been turning their sights to Kashmir as foreign forces leave to reinvigorate the nearly 24-year insurgency there.
"Will have to see what happens in Afghanistan in 2014. Pakistan want to push in many terrorists before winter," Singh was quoted as saying in an interview to be broadcast later by NDTV. His comments were posted on NDTV's Twitter account.
Pakistan denies it is helping militants cross the largely fenced border with India in Kashmir and has urged India to hold talks to tackle the decades-old dispute over the region.
Pakistan's envoy to India Salman Bashir was quoted as saying this week that Pakistan also had concerns and that the civilized way to deal with bilateral problems was to hold talks.
Talks have been slow to recover since the November 2008 attacks in Mumbai by Pakistan-based gunmen in which 166 people were killed. New Delhi has demanded that Pakistan act against the men who plotted the attack and take down what it calls the infrastructure of terrorism on Pakistan soil.
For the latest Kashmir intrusion, the Indian army cited as proof of Pakistani involvement radio intercepts, weapons with Pakistani markings seized from the area of operation and covering fire provided by Pakistani troops while the insurgents breached the de facto border.
"A large group of terrorists infiltrating … you mean to say that this is happening without the complicity of Pakistan Army? This is ridiculous," Lieutenant General Sanjiv Chachra, northern army commander told reporters in Srinagar, the summer capital of Jammu and Kashmir.
He said the army had killed eight militants and seized 50 pieces of weaponry. Search operations in the area have since been called off but the army is stepping up surveillance, he said.
(Reporting by Anurag Kotoky and Fayaz Bukhari; Editing by Sanjeev Miglani and Ron Popeski)