Six Civilians Killed as India, Pakistan Resume Fighting in Kashmir

Two Pakistani soldiers also killed ■ Violence this week marked the most serious escalation of the long-simmering conflict since 1999

A fin of an exploded mortar inside a damaged house that locals say was fired by Pakistani troops in India's Mendhar near the border with Pakistan on March 1, 2019.
SAJJAD HUSSAIN / AFP

Indian and Pakistani soldiers again targeted each other's posts and villages along their volatile frontier in disputed Kashmir, killing at least six civilians and two Pakistani troops, officials said Saturday.

Fighting resumed overnight into dawn Saturday, leaving two siblings and their mother dead in Indian-controlled Kashmir. The three died after a shell fired by Pakistani soldiers hit their home in Poonch region near the so-called Line of Control that divides the Himalayan territory of Kashmir between the two nuclear-armed rivals, police said. The children's father was critically wounded and has been hospitalized.

In Pakistan-controlled Kashmir, government official Umar Azam said Indian troops with heavy weapons "indiscriminately targeted border villagers" along the Line of Control, killing a boy and wounding three others. He said several homes were destroyed by Indian shelling.

Both countries' officials used the routine description for the military confrontations, saying their soldiers retaliated "befittingly," and blamed the other for "unprovoked" violation of the 2003-ceasefire accord at several sectors along the Kashmir frontier, targeting both army posts as well as villages.

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Tensions have been running high since Indian aircraft crossed into Pakistan on Tuesday, carrying out what India called a pre-emptive strike against militants blamed for a Feb. 14 suicide bombing in Indian-controlled Kashmir that killed 40 Indian troops.

Pakistan retaliated, shooting down a MiG-21 fighter jet Wednesday and detained its pilot, who was returned to India on Friday in a peace gesture.

Since the escalation, world leaders have scrambled to head off an all-out war between the archrivals. President Donald Trump, in Hanoi on Thursday, said he had been involved in seeking to de-escalate the conflict.

The violence this week marked the most serious escalation of the long-simmering conflict since 1999, when Pakistan's military sent a ground force into Indian-controlled Kashmir at Kargil. That year also saw an Indian fighter jet shoot down a Pakistani naval aircraft, killing all 16 on board.

This latest wave of tensions between the two rivals first began after the militant group Jaish-e-Mohammad claimed responsibility for the suicide bombing on Indian paramilitary forces. India long has accused Pakistan of cultivating such militant groups to attack it. Pakistan has said it was not involved in that attack and was ready to help New Delhi in the investigation.

On both sides of Kashmir, thousands of people have fled to government-run temporary shelters or relatives' homes in safer areas to escape deadly and relentless shelling along the frontier. Many of these villages dot the rugged and mountainous frontier, which is marked by razor wire, watch towers and bunkers amid tangled bushes, forests and fields of rice and corn.

"These battles are fought on our bodies, in our homes and fields and we still don't have anything in our hands. We are at the mercy of these soldiers," said Mohammed Akram, a resident in Mendhar area in Indian-controlled Kashmir.

Sakina, a young woman who fled to a shelter with her two kids, said the frequent shelling had made them "homeless in our own land."

In Pakistani-administered Kashmir, many displaced families urged the international community to play its role in resolving the issue of Kashmir so that they can live peacefully.

"Whenever India fires mortars, it's we who suffer," said Mohammad Latif, a laborer who took refuge at a government building that was vacated for sheltering displaced families.

"I don't care whether the Indian pilot is gone or not, I don't care who released him and why, but I want to know whether peace will return to us after his return to India," said Mohammad Sadiq, a shopkeeper who also was among the displaced. He said the latest tensions between Pakistan and India rose so suddenly that some people sold their sheep, cows and buffaloes at throwaway price in his native Chikothi town.

"We did not know whether we will get any shelter and how could we take our animals" with us, he said.

People living along the Line of Control do keep bunkers near their homes, but residents say they cannot spend day and nights in them.

Pakistan and India have fought two of their three wars over Kashmir since their independence from British rule in 1947.

India accuses Pakistan of arming and training the rebels and sending them into Indian-controlled Kashmir to launch attacks against government targets. Pakistan denies the charge, saying it provides moral and diplomatic support to Kashmiris fighting for right to self-determination.

Rebel groups have been fighting Indian rule since 1989 and demand that Kashmir be united either under Pakistani rule or as an independent country. Anti-India sentiment runs deep in the region, and most people support the rebels' cause against Indian rule while also participating in civilian street protests against Indian control.

Nearly 70,000 people have been killed in the uprising and the ensuing Indian military crackdown.