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Cross border shelling rise killing civilians on Kashmir border

20th Apr 2020
Cross border shelling rise killing civilians on Kashmir border

By Islamuddin Sajid and Hilal Mir

ISLAMABAD, Pakistan/SRINAGAR, Jammu and Kashmir, India (AA): As the world battles the COVID-19, Kashmiris across the Line of Control (LoC) struggle to escape from bullets.

The de facto border divides the disputed Kashmir valley between Pakistan and India and a fresh wave of cross border shelling have escalated tensions following the firing of heavy mortars in Dhudnial areas of Shahkot sectors along the LoC in Pakistan administered Kashmir on April 10.

The Pakistan military said Indian troops “resorted to unprovoked Ceasefire Violations” using artillery and heavy mortars deliberately targeting the civilian population.

“At Bessan Wali and Chhari villages, four innocent civilians, including a 15-year-old girl sustained serious injuries. Pakistan Army troops responded effectively with matching caliber, targeting those Indian Army posts which initiated fire,” Maj. Gen. Babar Iftikhar, spokesman for the Pakistan army tweeted

During three days of indiscriminate firing of heavy weapons and mortars, a two-year-old was killed and 10 other civilians were injured, added Iftikhar.

India’s Minister of State for Defense Shripad Naik told Indian Parliament on March 4 that between Jan. 1 and Feb. 23, 646 “incidents of ceasefire violations” occurred along the Indo-Pakistani International Border and the Line of Control.

He said a total of 1,586 incidents of cease-fire violations occurred along the LoC and the international border in 2019.

India’s Defense Minister Rajnath Singh told parliament in February that 15 soldiers were killed last year in cross-border firing.

Srinagar-based army spokesman Colonel Rajesh Kalia told Anadolu Agency that Pakistan “has been consistently resorting to unprovoked cease-fire violations.”

“Our troops retaliate effectively to such violations. Recently, we did precision targeting of their gun areas, terrorist launch pads and ammunition dumps,” he said.

On April 11, the Indian army issued a statement that accused Pakistan troops of violating that cease-fire along the LoC in Balakote and Mendhar sectors of Poonch without giving details about casualties.

Tense relations

Already fraught relations between the two South Asian nuclear rivals have further flared after India revoked a provision its Constitution granting special status to Jammu and Kashmir and Ladakh regions last August.

According to the Pakistani official, 59 civilians, including women and children, were killed and more than 280 wounded in cross border shelling on the Pakistani side of Kashmir in 2019.

“In 2019, India violated the ceasefire agreement 3351 times while this year alone, Indian occupation forces in IOJ&K [Indian Occupied Jammu and Kashmir] have committed over 765 ceasefire violations resulting in shahadat [martyrs] of 3 civilians as well as serious injuries to 54 innocent civilians,” said Pakistan Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Aisha Farooqui, who noted the number of cease fire violations in the past 4 years is 7,766.

On Friday, the Indian army chief in a statement accused Pakistan for exporting terrorist after his visit to Kashmir, following increased cross border shelling.

“While India is sending out medical teams to other countries and exporting medicines, Pakistan is only exporting terror,” Indian Today quoted Army Chief Gen. M. M. Naravane.

Pakistan rejected Naravane’s comments and termed it spurious and totally false allegations.

“These baseless Indian allegations are patently designed to divert global and domestic attention from India’s state-terrorism and egregious human rights violations and clamping of fundamental freedoms in IOJ&K, particularly post August 5, 2019,” Pakistan Foreign Ministry spokesperson said.

Situation in Indian Kashmir

At least three people, including a child, were killed April 12 during an exchange of heavy fire between the Indian and Pakistan forces, according to local residents.

Ghulam Qadir, head of Tumina village in Indian administered Kashmir, said when troops of the two countries exchanged heavy artillery fire it was scary and it reminded him of the 1965 and 1971 wars between India and Pakistan.

Eight-year-old Zain Bashir was killed after being hit by artillery shrapnel near his house in Tumina, said Qadir.

Qadir’s counterpart in Reddi village, Hyder Ali, said 17-year-old Javaid Ahmad Khan and 36-year-old Shameema Bano, both residents of Reddi, were killed after being hit by artillery splinters in his village.

“The world is in the grip of a pandemic. It is not the time to fight,” he said.

Last week, a protest by villagers in the neighboring and densely-populated Panzgam was conducted after the army moved artillery guns into a field and started firing toward Pakistani positions. Protesters feared they could be the targets because the Indian army’s camp is only a few hundred meters away.

Shabir, a resident of Panzgam who gave his first name due to security reasons, said guns were withdrawn during the night. Guns had also been moved into Malikpora village but withdrawn after villagers protested.

Tumina, Reddi, Malikpora and Panzgam are located in the northern Kupwara district, one of the most militarized in Kashmir Valley. While some parts of the district, especially those close to the LoC, have intermittently been hit by cross border shelling in the past 30 years, casualties away from the border is viewed as a sign of the escalation in recent years.

India and Pakistan both hold Kashmir in parts and claim it in full. China also controls part of the contested region, but it is India and Pakistan who have fought two wars over Kashmir.

[Photo: An Indian paramilitary soldier is seen deployed in Srinagar which continues to remain closed due to the lockdown in Kashmir, India on April 10, 2020.  Photographer: Faisal Khan/AA]

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