Seven Pakistani soldiers were killed in what officials described as “unprovoked firing” by Indian troops along the Line of Control (LoC), with the Foreign Office summoning the Indian envoy to lodge a protest.
The military’s media arm said on its Facebook page that the soldiers died in Bhimber sector of the LoC in a ceasefire violation by Indian troops late on Sunday night. It added, “Pakistani troops while responding to Indian unprovoked firing targeted Indian posts effectively.”
On Monday afternoon, army chief Gen Raheel Sharif attended the funeral prayers for the seven soldiers at Kharian Cantonment on the outskirts of Jhelum city. The military’s chief spokesman quoted Sharif as saying that Pakistan will “continue to respond effectively (and) leave no stone unturned to defend (the) motherland”.
The Foreign Office summoned Indian high commissioner Gautam Bambawale on Monday afternoon to lodge a protest against the firing on the LoC, with spokesman Nafees Zakaria saying India “must stop all ceasefire violations”.
“We reserve the right to befittingly respond to Indian aggression,” he added.
In Jammu, officials said Indian troops had fired in retaliation after Pakistan pounded Indian outposts and border villages on the LoC with heavy machine guns and mortars. Sources said 22 Pakistani soldiers were also wounded in the skirmish.
In a statement, Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif expressed grief at the loss of lives because of ceasefire violations by Indian forces. Paying tribute to the dead soldiers, he said: “We are fully capable of defending our soil against any aggression. Indian forces have resorted to escalating tension on the LoC only to distract the world’s attention from the grave human rights situation in (Kashmir).”
He described the unrest in Kashmir as an “indigenous uprising against Indian occupation” and said the Indian government is “failing to read the writing on the wall”.
Indian and Pakistani troops have repeatedly exchanged fire on the LoC, with both sides reporting deaths, including of civilians, after Pakistani militants ambushed an army camp in Uri and killed 19 soldiers.
Bhimber in Poonch district was one of the sectors from where Indian forces launched surgical strikes on militant hideouts across the LoC, on September 29 after the Uri attack.
Following the death of the Pakistani soldiers on Sunday, the Pakistan Army targeted border areas such as Naushera, Sunderbani and Pallanwala. The cross-border firing spread to Poonch on Monday afternoon, where a commando of 9 Para was wounded. The 27-year-old commando, Vinay Devrai of Uttarakhand, was said to be stable.
“There is unprovoked ceasefire violation by Pakistani army. They are using 82mm mortar shells and automatic weapons. Indian troops are responding befittingly,” military spokesperson Lt Col Manish Mehta said. Indian troops damaged at least three Pakistani posts, reports said.
The firing escalated on a day the Jammu and Kashmir government announced the reopening of more than 400 schools along the border, which were shut on November 1 in the wake of shelling by Pakistani forces.
The skirmishes come against the backdrop of months of protests in Kashmir over the killing of militant commander Burhan Wani in July. The two countries have expelled diplomats as Pakistan continued to push an anti-India line at global forums.
(With inputs from Ravi Krishnan Khajuria in Jammu)