Indian soldiers, Pakistani civilians among dead in Kashmir clash

Reuters | Oct 20, 2019 at 9:32 AM

SRINAGAR, India, Oct 20 (Reuters) - India and Pakistan blamed one another for cross-border shelling in the disputed Kashmir region which killed and injured soldiers and civilians on both sides and made it one of the deadliest days since New Delhi revoked Kashmir's special status in August.

India said there was heavy shelling by Pakistan across the border in northern Kashmir's Tangdhar region late on Saturday night, killing two Indian soldiers and one civilian. Islamabad said one of its soldiers and three civilians died after India violated the ceasefire, according to the spokesman for the Pakistani Armed Forces.

Kashmir has been a disputed subject between the two nuclear-armed neighbours since they both got independence in 1947, and they have fought two of their three wars over the region.

Tensions between the two countries have flared and there has been intermittent cross-border firing since Aug. 5 when New Delhi flooded Indian Kashmir with troops to quell unrest after it revoked the region's special autonomous status.

Islamabad has warned that changing Kashmir's status would escalate tensions but India says the withdrawal of special status is an internal affair and is aimed at faster economic development of the territory.

Reuters was unable to independently verify the claims made by both sides on the shelling, which marks an escalation from the small arms fire usually exchanged by the two armies.

There was an unprovoked ceasefire violation by Pakistan, said Indian defence spokesman Colonel Rajesh Kalia.

"Our troops retaliated strongly causing heavy damage and casualties to the enemy," Kalia said.

An Indian army source said the shelling was cover to assist militants enter India because of which a "calibrated escalation of area weapons was undertaken". The Indian army "retains the right to respond at a time and place of it's choosing" if the Pakistani army continues to do this, he said.

Pakistan, meanwhile, also claimed that India's attack was unprovoked and deliberately targeted at civilians.

Major General Asif Ghafoor, a spokesman for the Pakistan Armed Forces, said Pakistan responded "effectively," killing 9 Indian soldiers, injuring several others and destroying 2 bunkers.

"The Indian army shall always get a befitting response," he said.

Indian forces in Kashmir have gone "berserk", Raja Farooq Haider, prime minister of Pakistan's Azad Kashmir region, said, adding that six civilians died and 8 were injured.