At least eight people, including two children, were killed in Jammu and Kashmir’s border districts on Tuesday as Pakistan pounded frontier villages and army posts with mortar shells and heavy machine gun fire, betraying a ceasefire agreement between the two neighbours.
Escalating cross-border firing and mounting civilian fatalities prompted Union home minister Rajnath Singh to hold a high-level meeting with defence minister Manohar Parrikar, army chief General Dalbir Singh Suhag, national security adviser Ajit Doval, Border Security Force (BSF) chief KK Sharma, and home secretary Rajiv Mehrishi.
Earlier in the day, he met Jammu and Kashmir governor NN Vohra, who briefed him about Pakistan’s continuing ceasefire violations.
“Pakistani guns were quiet on the international border on Monday night. But they resumed firing small arms and mortar shells at one place the following morning,” Border Security Force (BSF) Jammu frontier deputy inspector general, Dharmender Pareekh, said.
The firing intensified thereafter, although the BSF gave a “befitting reply”.
“In a calibrated response to the unprovoked firing and shelling by Pakistan Rangers in the Ramgarh and Arnia sub-sectors (of Jammu district) since morning, the BSF caused heavy damage to nearly 14 Pakistani posts,” Pareekh said.
It was not known if any Pakistani soldier or civilian were killed.
The Pakistani army has been targeting front line areas since the September 29 “surgical strikes” when Indian elite forces crossed the Line of Control, the de facto border between the two countries, and destroyed temporary militant bases.
The shelling points to plummeting bilateral ties since Pakistani militants attacked an army base in Kashmir’s Uri, killing 19 soldiers, on September 18.
The shelling caused fatalities along the international border and the LoC in Samba, Jammu, Rajouri and Poonch districts.
Nearly 18,000 villagers from the border areas have taken refuge in relief camps or gone to their relatives in safer places. Bullet-proof vehicles are on standby to evacuate people during shelling.
“Evacuation has started and people have started moving to relief camps,” Samba deputy commissioner of police Sheetal Nanda said.
Rajouri deputy commissioner Shabir Ahmed Bhat said as much. “The situation is tense and people are moving out. We have sent vehicles to ferry them.”
Police said two children – aged five and seven – and a woman were killed in Ramgarh’s Rangoor Camp in Samba district, which bore the maximum brunt of the shelling.
Two women and a man died in Rajouri district, while an 18-year-old girl was killed in Ramgarh when a Pakistani mortar exploded in her kitchen when she was cooking for her family.
A 65-year-old man died of shock when a shell burst near him.
Another 22 people were wounded, among them three army porters and a year-old baby who suffered grave shrapnel wounds in the spine.
At least 18 people have been killed and more than 80 were wounded in Pakistani shelling since the “surgical strikes”.
Sources said the Pakistani army has deployed reinforcements from 12 Mujahideen Battalion, 14 Okra Infantry and 19 Mangla Infantry close to the LoC to help the Pakistan Rangers.