MUZAFFARABAD: Indian troops resumed heavy shelling on Wednesday after a day-long lull and targeted a passenger bus in Azad Jammu and Kashmir’s Lawat area, killing nine people and injuring 11 others.
“Indian troops hit a passenger coaster with small and big arms in the town of Lawat, killing nine passengers and injuring 11 others,” said Jamil Mir, superintendent of police (SP) in Neelum Valley.
“Four bodies and all 11 injured persons have arrived in District Headquarters Hospital Athmuqam, but five bodies are still in the coaster,” SP Mir said.
The coaster was on its way to Muzaffarabad. Lawat is located some 90 kilometres northeast of here in the upper belt of valley that straddles the restive Line of Control (LoC).
SP Mir said shelling in Neelum valley had begun at about 3:00am, but intensified in the morning. Officials from other areas had similar stories.
In a separate incident of Indian shelling in Nakyal, one person was killed and three others injured.
Sardar Zeeshan Nisar, assistant commissioner of Nakyal, in the southern Kotli district said, “Shelling in my area has started at about 8:40 am, and it has been indiscriminate.”
“So far, four injured persons have been brought to a health facility, but I am afraid there may be more casualties, as shelling is ongoing,” Nisar said. He later said that one of the wounded had succumbed to their injuries.
Tatta Pani sector of district Kotli was also receiving shells, but so far there was no report of casualties there.
Locals in Battal, Madarpur sectors of district Poonch said their areas were also hit by heavy shelling.
“There were unconfirmed reports about some people having been injured, but we are awaiting confirmation,” a police official told Dawn from Madarpur.
Military sources said that Pakistan army was serving “knee-jerk” response to Indian shelling.
The Inter-Services Public Relations (ISPR) in a statement confirmed that Pakistani and Indian troops had exchanged fire across the LoC on Wednesday.
“Indian troops targeted a civilian bus near the LoC in Neelum Valley,” the ISPR said, adding that four people were killed and seven injured when the bus was near Dhudnial.
Earlier, ISPR said, “Indian resorted to unprovoked firing and shelling on LoC in Shahkot, Jura, Battal, Karela, Bagh , Bagsar, Hotspring sectors today.”
Indian forces were targeting the civilian population, ISPR said. “An intense exchange of fire is ongoing as Pakistani troops target Indian posts.”
Indian army on Tuesday claimed three of its soldiers were killed along the LoC and threatened Pakistani forces of retribution.
The army also claimed that the body of one of the dead soldiers had been “mutilated.”
The Foreign Office however rejected the claim, saying that the “reports are a fabrication and a blatant attempt to malign Pakistan”.
Cross-border firing a new normal
Tensions between Pakistan and India have been running high following an alleged ‘surgical strike’, unrest in Kashmir and the Uri army base attack in September.
Since then there have been repeated outbreaks of cross-border firing in Kashmir, with both sides reporting deaths and injuries including of civilians.
Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi stepped up a drive to isolate Pakistan diplomatically after the Uri army base attack in which 19 Indian soldiers were killed. Hours after the attack occurred, Indian Home Minister Rajnath Singh termed Pakistan a ‘terrorist state’ and accused Pakistan of involvement.
The Uri attack occurred days before Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif was set to address the United Nations General Assembly regarding Indian human rights violations in held Kashmir.
Following the attack, India claimed it had conducted a cross-border ‘surgical strike’ against ‘launch pads of terror’ in Azad Jammu and Kashmir — a claim Pakistan has strongly rejected.
Pakistan maintains that India is attempting to divert the world’s attention away from atrocities committed by government forces in India-held Kashmir.
Pakistan and India have, most recently, locked horns over Kashmir since Indian forces stepped up a crackdown against protesters after Hizbul Mujahideen commander Burhan Wani was killed by government forces in July.