New Delhi – India summoned Pakistan’s envoy in New Delhi Sunday to protest against civilian deaths in recent troop firings along their disputed border, hiking tensions ahead of talks between the nuclear-armed rivals.
Six civilians died on the weekend in troubled Indian Kashmir after firing and shelling by Pakistani troops from across the border, according to Indian police.
Another two civilians were killed in shelling by Indian soldiers into the Pakistani side of the disputed Himalayan region, according to a Pakistani official on Saturday.
“We lodged a protest, and conveyed our anger, at the unprovoked firing by Pakistani troops since August 8” including “the systematic targeting of our civilian populations”, an Indian foreign ministry statement said after the meeting.
Pakistan High Commissioner Abdul Basit sought to blame Indian troops for the uptick in firing incidents in recent months.
“There have been close to 70 ceasefire violations from this side of the LoC (Line of Control) and working boundary,” Basit told reporters outside the foreign ministry office in Delhi where he had been hauled in.
India and Pakistan often accuse each other of violating a 2003 ceasefire agreement along their de facto border known as the Line of Control (LoC) that divides Kashmir.
Firing and shelling between troops has occurred on an almost daily basis for the past week along the LoC.
Top security officials of the two countries are scheduled to meet in the Indian capital from August 23 in what Pakistan last week described as “ice breaking” talks.
After months of stalemate and recriminations, Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi and his Pakistani counterpart Nawaz Sharif spoke for nearly an hour while visiting Russia in July.
Kashmir has been divided between the two countries since the end of British rule but is claimed in full by both. The neigbours have fought two wars over control of the Muslim-majority territory.
Firing resumed along their frontier on Sunday in India’s Poonch sector, 320 kilometres (200 miles) south of the region’s main city of Srinagar, said Indian defence ministry spokesman Manish Mehta.
Three civilians including a woman had died overnight on Saturday in hospitals from injuries sustained in firing, said Danesh Rana, inspector-general of police for the region.
Three others were killed late Saturday when a mortar bomb fired from the Pakistani side hit their car in the Balakote area of the sector, Indian officials have said.
“The number of dead civilians is now six,” Rana told AFP.
The weekend incidents came even as the two countries celebrated the anniversary of independence from Britain in 1947.
Several rebel groups have for decades battled Indian forces deployed on the Indian side, seeking either independence or a merger of the territory with Pakistan. The conflict has left tens of thousands, mostly civilians, dead.