Islamabad – At least 10 civilians were killed Friday as India and Pakistan traded fire across their disputed border, officials said, less than a week after high-level talks were aborted amid a row over Kashmir.
Six died near the city of Sialkot in Pakistan’s Punjab province and at least four villagers were killed in Indian-administered Kashmir. Officials said more than 50 were wounded.
A meeting between the Indian and Pakistani national security advisors in New Delhi on Sunday was called off at the last minute amid a dispute about whether the agenda should include Kashmir, the Himalayan territory both sides control in part but claim in full.
In a statement issued to the media, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs said Pakistan summoned the Indian High Commissioner in Islamabad to lodge protest against ceasefire violations.
“The Government of Pakistan strongly protested over the latest ceasefire violations by India in Harpal and Chaprar sectors at the Working Boundary resulting in shahadat (martyrdom) of 6 civilians, including a woman and a child,” the statement said .
The two sides regularly fire shells and mortars across the disputed border both in Kashmir and to the south in Punjab, killing civilians.
A senior Pakistani security official told AFP that Indian forces began firing around 3:00 am on Friday (2200 GMT Thursday) and continued intermittently during the morning.
“Six civilians embraced shahadat and 46 were severely injured including 22 females due to Indian unprovoked firing/shelling on working boundary near Sialkot in Chaprar and Harpal sector,” a statement from the Pakistani military said, adding that they had returned fire.
In Indian-controlled Kashmir, Border Security Force (BSF) official Rakesh Kumar Sharma accused Pakistan of targeting civilians with “unprovoked” mortar fire.
“Four villagers died in the shelling from across the border, three of them were killed early morning and one died of injuries in a hospital later,” Pawan Kotwal, the top administrator of the region told AFP.
Another BSF officer, J.S.Oberio, put the number of injured at 16, saying at least 10 border posts and several villages were targeted by Pakistani troops.
– Age-old tensions –
Pakistan and India have fought two of their three wars over the Himalayan region since both gained independence in 1947, and it remains a major source of tension.
About a dozen militant groups have been fighting since 1989 for either the independence of the Indian-controlled portion of Kashmir or its merger with Pakistan.
Shelling across the de facto border, known as the Line of Control (LoC) in disputed Kashmir and the “working boundary” in Punjab, has been on the rise this month.
Sunday’s talks had brought hopes of a possible easing of tensions, but these were dashed as the meeting was sunk amid a welter of angry rhetoric on Saturday.
The plan for Sunday’s talks came from a meeting between Pakistani Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif and his Indian counterpart Narendra Modi at a regional summit in Russia last month.
Little of substance was expected but the very fact that the security advisors, Sartaj Aziz for Pakistan and Ajit Doval for India, were to meet at all was seen as progress.
But the plan faltered at familiar obstacles: Aziz’s intention to meet Kashmiri leaders in New Delhi — an issue that scuppered foreign secretary-level talks last year — and India’s insistence the agenda should focus on terrorism.
Pakistan’s failure to hand over or prosecute the alleged masterminds of the 2008 Mumbai attacks has infuriated India, particularly when the suspected ringleader, Zaki-ur-Rehman Lakhvi, was freed on bail.
Islamabad, for its part, insists talks must be wide-ranging and include thorny issues like Kashmir.