Indian and Pakistani forces on Friday waged their biggest artillery battle of the past year, leaving more than 13 dead and dozens wounded on both sides of their disputed Kashmir frontier, officials said.
Artillery and machine gun clashes were reported all along the 740-kilometre (460-mile) ceasefire line that has separated the nuclear-armed rivals for the past seven decades, officials from the two sides said.
Hundreds of villagers were moved away from the so-called Line of Control (LoC) in Indian-controlled territory, while Pakistani officials said dozens of homes were set ablaze by Indian shelling on their side.
Read more: Pakistan Army Chief warns against change in Kashmir’s disputed status
The new peak in tensions came only five days after three Indian soldiers and three militants were killed in an exchange along the LoC. India is also involved in a border showdown with the Chinese army in the Himalayas.
The latest fighting erupted early Friday, with the two sides accusing each other of launching “unprovoked” assaults, and shells were still being fired into the night, residents said. “Pakistan used mortars and other weapons” and “deliberately targeted civilian areas”, said an Indian army statement.
Four Indian troops and four civilians, including an eight year-old boy, were killed, army and police spokesmen said. At least 12 security forces and civilians were wounded.
Violation of LOC in other sectors including Neelum Valley:
The firing was so intense that no one was able to pick up the injured.
When will this oppression and barbarism end on our innocent Kashmiri brothers and sisters?
Where is @hrw @UNHumanRights @OIC_OCI pic.twitter.com/5YvPjkWUl7
— N@see® Abb@si (Offi©i@£) (@N_Abba_G) November 14, 2020
On the other side of the border, Raja Farooq Haider, senior minister in Pakistani Kashmir, said five people were killed and 31 wounded in the intense shelling on the Neelum and Jhelum valleys.
The Pakistani military confirmed one of the dead was a soldier. “For how long (do) we have to bear such colossal losses?” he said in a Twitter message directed at Pakistan Prime Minister Imran Khan.
Indian officers said the fighting was sparked when militants tried to cross into Indian-controlled territory at the northern end of the LoC.
Read more: Time for Indo-Pakistan Talks: Rejoinder to Praveen Swami
Indian troops “retaliated strongly, causing substantial damage to the Pakistan army’s infrastructure and casualties,” said the military statement, adding that ammunition dumps and forward bases had been hit.
The two sides regularly stage artillery duels across the LoC, and invariably blame each other. Kashmir has been divided between the two countries since their angry separation in 1947. It has been a cause of two of their three wars since then.
Both countries claim the whole of the Himalayan region, where India is also fighting an insurgency that has left tens of thousands dead since 1989.
Read more: Masters of “False Surgical Strikes”: India & Iran
Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi was to visit troops in a border area on Saturday for Diwali, the biggest Hindu holiday of the year, according to media reports. Modi, who portrays himself as tough on security, has spent every Diwali with the military since becoming the country’s leader in 2014.
Modi launched what he called “surgical strikes” inside Pakistani Kashmir in 2016 after militants attacked an Indian base, killing 19 soldiers. The neighbours staged air strikes against each other last year after a suicide bomb attack in which 40 Indian troops were killed.
AFP with additional input by GVS News Desk