India-Pakistan trade machine gun fire across Kashmir border

The firing has caused tens of thousands of frontier village residents to flee their homes

A man with his belongings on a tractor cart moves to a safer place at Jagowal village near Jammu on Thursday. India warned Pakistan it would pay an “unaffordable price” if it persisted with shelling and machine-gun fire across a heavily populated border area in the lowlands of Kashmir. Photograph: Mukesh Gupta/Reuters

A man with his belongings on a tractor cart moves to a safer place at Jagowal village near Jammu on Thursday. India warned Pakistan it would pay an “unaffordable price” if it persisted with shelling and machine-gun fire across a heavily populated border area in the lowlands of Kashmir. Photograph: Mukesh Gupta/Reuters

 

Nuclear rivals India and Pakistan continued to exchange mortar and small arms fire yesterday along their northern disputed Jammu and Kashmir border, in clashes that have killed 17 civilians and injured scores to date.

The firing, which began nearly a week ago along a 200km border stretch and is the worst such exchange in a decade, caused tens of thousands of frontier village residents on either side flee their homes.

Each country blames the other for the aggression and it is difficult to independently verify their conflicting claims as military personnel control the region and all access is under their strict supervision.

Divided between India and Pakistan but claimed by both, Kashmir is also the province over which the neighbours have fought two of their three wars since independence in 1947.

They also engaged in an 11-week long military skirmish in 1999 in which 1,200 soldiers died and one that threatened to escalate into a nuclear exchange before the US brokered a fractious peace.

“If Pakistan persists with this adventurism, then our forces will continue to fight,” India’s defence minister Arun Jaitley said in New Delhi yesterday. “The cost of this adventurism will be unaffordable” he ominously warned Pakistan.

Mr Jaitley also ruled out initiating talks to end the mortar and heavy machine gun fire that is devastating border posts and villages. “How can we have talks when firing is on?” he asked.

Pakistan responded by accusing Indian troops of killing 10 Pakistani villagers in repeated “unprovoked firing” along the border . “Pakistani troops are befittingly responding to Indian violations,” an official statement in Islamabad said.

A complex arrangement divides the Jammu and Kashmir border, one of the world’s most militarized, between the two sides.

It includes a 198km long international boundary – which Pakistan calls a working boundary – and a 745km long disputed “line of control” or de facto border, mostly in the Himalayas, that came into being after the third war in 1971.

Most of the tit-for-tat firing is along the former border stretch that falls in the Jammu lowlands.

This is the first major flare-up with Pakistan that India’s newly elected Prime Minister Narendra Modi is facing and officials say he has promised Islamabad a “becoming response”.

The firefight comes shortly after India cancelled peace talks with Pakistan in August following a meeting between its envoy and Kashmiri separatist leaders in Delhi.

It also follows Pakistan prime minister Nawaz Sharif’s address to the UN general assembly in New York last month in which he reiterated Islamabad’s demand for UN intervention in resolving the Kashmir dispute.

India strongly opposes such a move, claiming Kashmir to be a bilateral dispute that needs settling jointly without UN involvement.

India also accuses Pakistan of supporting the Muslim insurgency for an independent Kashmir that has been raging since 1989, claiming over 65,000 lives. Pakistan denies arming this campaign, saying it provides the Islamists only diplomatic and political support in the face of human rights abuses by India’s security forces.