MUZAFFARABAD: Six civilians and a soldier of the Pakistan Army embraced martyrdom while two soldiers and at least nine civilians were wounded in Azad Jammu and Kashmir (AJK) after Indian troops resorted to “indiscriminate and ruthless” shelling from across the Line of Control (LoC) past midnight “without any provocation”, civil and military officials said on Sunday.
In a befitting response, Pakistan Army effectively targeted Indian positions across the dividing line, destroying two Indian bunkers, killing nine Indian soldiers and injuring several other troops, according to Maj Gen Asif Ghafoor, director general of the Inter Services Public Relations (ISPR), the media affairs wing of Pakistan army.
The ISPR chief identified the martyred soldier as Lance Naik Zahid.
The civilian and military officials said the Nauseri sector, in Muzaffarabad district, and its adjoining Jura and Shahkot sectors, in Neelum valley, were attacked by Indian troops without pause from midnight onwards, using field artillery, mortars and tracer munition to brazenly target civilians.
Prime Minister Imran Khan strongly condemned the unprovoked firing by the Indian occupation forces. He prayed for eternal peace of those martyred and early recovery of the injured, a PM Office statement said.
Mr Khan also saluted the valour of the Pakistan Army for giving a befitting response to the Indian forces.
Six civilians and a soldier embrace martyrdom; PM condemns unprovoked firing
Giving details of the casualties, Deputy Commissioner Badar Munir told Dawn that three persons lost their lives and two were injured after a shell hit their house in Nauseri sector’s Nosadda village. He identified the deceased as Haji Azam, 60, his son Mohammad Rafaqat, 28, and Haji Sarfraz, 47, son of Ghulam Rabbani. Elsewhere in the Nauseri sector, two labourers — Liaquat Ali, 35, from Mardan and Yasir, 30, from Attock — were killed when a shell hit a link road where they were working, he said. In Kanoor village of Nauseri sector, two women and a man were injured, he added.
In Neelum valley, a shopkeeper, Zafar Khan, 45, was killed, said Akhtar Ayub, a disaster management officer based in district headquarters Athmuqam. He added that four women were injured in Jura village.
According to him, Indian shelling destroyed 39 houses and 28 shops and partially damaged 93 houses and 60 shops. Besides, 16 vehicles, including four motorcycles, were also damaged, he said.
Indian claims rejected
Pakistan rejected India’s claim that they had “smashed four terror launch pads” in Neelum valley in the artillery fire by the Indian Army as a “pack of lies”.
In a statement, Foreign Office rejected Indian media reports about targeting “launch-pads” along the LoC. Calling upon P5 countries “to ask India to provide information about the alleged launch-pads”, the FO expressed willingness to arrange a visit of the P5 diplomats to those locations to expose Indian falsehood. “Heinous targeting of civilians is a typical attempt by India to divert international attention from the humanitarian nightmare in India-occupied Jammu and Kashmir,” the FO added.
In response to a similar claim by the Indian army chief, the ISPR DG tweeted: “Indian COAS’ statement claiming destruction of 3 alleged camps in AJK is disappointing as he holds a very responsible appointment. There are no camps let alone targeting those. Indian Embassy in Pakistan is welcome to take any foreign diplomat / media to ‘prove’ it on ground. The propensity of false claims by senior Indian military leadership, especially since Pulwama incident, is detrimental to peace in the region. Such false claims by Indian Army are being made to suit vested domestic interests. This is against professional military ethos.”
The DG ISPR said the Indian army was struggling to pick bodies and evacuate its injured soldiers. “Indian army [is] raising white flags. This, they should think before initiating unprovoked ceasefire violations and respect military norms by avoiding to target innocent civilians. Indian army shall always get a befitting response to ceasefire violations. Pakistan army shall protect innocent civilians along LoC and inflict unbearable cost to Indian army. Indian lies to justify their false claims and preparations for a false flag operation will continue to be exposed with full truth,” he said.
The AJK premier in a similar tweet said: “Indian claim that it has destroyed any training camps in Azad Kashmir in overnight shelling is as rubbish as their claim regarding [the] Balakot attack. We have repeatedly offered [that] AJK is open to everyone unlike IOK which has always been a no go area for foreign media and observers.”
Mr Haider also posted photos of the victims of the Indian shelling as well as those of the destroyed shops along the main road in Jura, and asked Indian army chief to behave like a soldier and not like a Bollywood film writer. “Whenever savage Indian troops target and kill non-combatant civilian population along the LoC, they lie through their teeth to justify serious breach of all international laws, conventions and military norms,” the AJK premier said.
Indian charge d’ affaires summoned
Meanwhile, in Islamabad India’s Charge d’ Affaires Gaurav Ahluwalia was summoned to the Foreign Office by Director General (SA&SAARC) Dr Mohammad Faisal, who condemned the “unprovoked ceasefire violations by the Indian occupation forces” along the LoC in Jura, Shahkot and Nauseri sectors.
Civilian populated areas along the LoC and Working Boundary have been constantly targeted by the Indian forces with artillery fire, heavy calibre mortars, and automatic weapons. This escalation in ceasefire violations by India had been going on since 2017 when the Indian forces had committed more than 1,970 ceasefire violations, said the FO statement.
“The deliberate targeting of civilian populated areas is indeed deplorable and contrary to human dignity, international human rights and humanitarian laws,” it added.
Dr Faisal also stressed that the UN Military Observers Group must be permitted to play their mandated role, as the secretary of civil defence and disaster management said the latest casualties increased this year’s civilian death toll in AJK to 53 and the number of injured to 246.