October 21, 2016

Pakistan, India exchange fresh fire in Kashmir

Indian Border Security Force (BSF) personnel patrol at the India-Pakistan border village Daoke

Pakistan and India exchanged fresh fire across the Kashmir border Saturday, the Pakistani military said, with Indian officials stating there was no damage as tensions rise between the nuclear-armed rivals.

“Pakistani troops befittingly responded to Indian unprovoked firing” which started at 4:00 am (2300 GMT) and continued for four hours in Bhimber sector on the Pakistani side of the border, a military statement said.

It did not mention casualties.

“There was small arms fire and mortar shells fire from across the border in Akhnoor sector which lasted for around two hours (4:00 am to 6:00 am),” Pawan Kotwal, a top civilian official in Jammu and Kashmir state on the Indian side, told AFP.

“No damage was caused. We are ready for any eventuality but it is peaceful in Jammu region.”

The skirmish came two days after India claimed it had carried out “surgical strikes” across the heavily militarised Line of Control (LoC), the de facto border in the disputed territory, on what it called “terrorist” targets several kilometres (miles) inside Pakistan-controlled Kashmir.

Indian Border Security Force (BSF) personnel patrol on horses at the India-Pakistan border village Daoke

The rare public admission of such action sparked furious rhetoric from Pakistan and calls for restraint from the US and the UN.

Tensions between the two arch rivals have been boiling since the Indian government accused Pakistan-based militants of launching an assault on an army base in Kashmir earlier this month that killed 18 soldiers.

“This is a dangerous moment for the region,” Pakistan’s Ambassador Maleeha Lodhi told AFP after meeting with UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon at UN headquarters in New York.

Ban Friday offered to act as a mediator between New Delhi and Islamabad to defuse the tensions.

In a statement to AFP, India’s mission to the United Nations said “India has no desire to aggravate the situation,” and that “our response was a measured counter-terrorist strike”.

On Friday authorities in parts of northern India said they had started evacuating villages within 10 kilometres (six miles) of the border following the raids earlier this week.

India and Pakistan have fought three wars since they gained independence from Britain seven decades ago, two of them over the disputed Himalayan region of Kashmir.

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