ISLAMABAD: Pakistan and India traded heavy gunfire yesterday, killing one person and forcing villagers in divided Kashmir to flee to safety even as the Pakistani president renewed his offer of talks with India to resolve the issue of the disputed region. A Pakistani woman was killed and her two daughters and husband were wounded when an Indian mortar struck their home in the Nezapir sector of the divided region, the Pakistani military said.
The two nuclear-armed archrivals have a history of uneasy relations and regularly exchange fire over the disputed boundary, the latest coming as Pakistan celebrated Independence Day. Pakistan won independence from Britain on Aug. 14, 1947, and marks the date each year with rallies and other celebrations.
In a televised speech yesterday, Pakistani President Mamnoon Hussain said his nation believes in “peaceful co-existence” with India, though it would not comprise if its defense and security came under threat. “We want to resolve all outstanding issues, including Kashmir, with India,” he told a gathering of students, government and military officials in the capital, Islamabad.
Security was tight and troops guarded the Convention Center where Hussain, along with Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif, hoisted the national flag. Since 1947, Pakistan and India have fought two of their three wars over Kashmir, which is claimed by both countries. The region is divided into sectors and there is a Line of Control that separates Pakistan-controlled Kashmir from Indian-held Kashmir. There was no immediate response from New Delhi on Hussain’s offer or the report of Pakistani casualties in the latest exchange.
On Thursday, Islamabad accepted an invitation from India for a bilateral security meeting on August 23. It was unclear if the Kashmir issue would be brought up at that meeting. Earlier yesterday, the Pakistani military said “unprovoked shooting” came from the Indian-held side of Kashmir, from Nezapir and Rawalakot sectors, and that Pakistani forces were responding.
Mohammad Ansar, a local police official in Pakistan’s part of Kashmir said rockets and mortars fired by Indian were landing near villages in the two sectors since the morning hours and that terrified villagers were fleeing to safer places. However, Indian army spokesman Lt Col. Manish Mehta blamed Pakistan, saying the Pakistanis have been firing mortars, grenades and machine-guns at Indian positions in the Poonch sector “intermittently for the last five days.” “We’ve given them a befitting reply,” he said, denouncing what he called “unprovoked, ceasefire violations” by Pakistan.
Independence Day curfew
Meanwhile in Srinagar, authorities imposed a curfew in parts of the main city of Indian-controlled Kashmir yesterday to prevent any move by separatists to celebrate Pakistan’s Independence Day, police said. The restrictions in Srinagar, which included the closure of the city’s main mosque during Friday prayers, were announced on the eve of Independence Day in both India and Pakistan and follow a recent spike in violence. “The restrictions are imposed to prevent miscreants from hoisting Pakistani flags and to avoid loss of life,” director general of police, K Rajendra, told AFP.
The anniversary of the partition of the sub-continent in 1947 is often a tense period in Kashmir, a picturesque Himalayan territory which has been divided between India and Pakistan since the end of British colonial rule. Kashmir is India’s only Muslim majority state and several rebel groups have spent decades fighting for independence or a merger with Pakistan. The conflict has left tens of thousands, mostly civilians, dead.
On Thursday a bomb kept in a steel pot exploded in the compound of a mosque in the south of the Kashmir Valley, injuring 10 worshipers as they were leaving after morning prayers. While relations between the two nuclear-armed countries remain chilly, their respective national security advisors are scheduled to meet in the Indian capital New Delhi on August 23 as a confidence-building measure. – Agencies