The long-simmering India – Pakistan border war flared up again on Friday as several clashes erupted between Indian and Pakistani military forces on Friday. Government officials from both nations confirm that at least 11 civilians have been killed and close to a hundred injured, mainly by artillery fire, into villages on both sides of the border.
Somewhat ironically, the military flare up came as Indian and Pakistani leaders refused to hold further high-level talks.
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Several media sources have confirmed that military forces from the two countries have been exchanging rifle and artillery fire, which resulted in damage to several villages near the border. Of note, India has just begun a golden jubilee celebration to mark the end of the 1965 war between India and Pakistan.
Not surprisingly, both sides are blaming each other for starting the latest round of fatal border shelling.
More on latest flare up of India – Pakistan violence
The confrontation on Friday is just the latest in scores of border incidents between the two bitter, nuclear-armed rivals. Military analysts note that several dozen soldiers and civilians have died over the last 12 months in the conflict.
The current incident is particularly regretful as the prime ministers from both sides had agreed on a number of measures to reduce tensions just a few weeks ago, including a meeting between senior defense officials from India and Pakistan.
The latest reports are that three civilians have been killed in the Indian border region of Jammu, in Kashmir, and at least 20 others were injured in shelling, according to local officials.
A local Indian official noted: “[The] Pakistani side started shelling around midnight (and) that intensified early Friday morning around dawn.”.
But Pakistan’s Foreign Ministry claimed Indian howitzers started the firing over the border at around 11:30 p.m. local time on Thursday.
Six civilians were killed and more than 47 were wounded in Pakistan in the firing which ended Friday, according to the foreign ministry, which also stated that it has lodged a formal protest with the Indian government.
The Pakistani casualties were among villagers in the Sialkot district, which is just across the border from Jammu. Both of the counties claim that the entire Kashmir border area is a part of their territory.
Disagreement over Kashmir region led to cancellation of planned talks
India has long accused accuses Pakistan of supporting armed Kashmiri separatists as well as harboring militants who regularly undertake cross-border terror attacks in the area. Pakistan refutes India’s allegations, and claims that it just provides moral and diplomatic support to all of the people of Kashmir.
Of note, Kashmir was the spark for the war of words that eventually caused the cancellation of high level talks on border security that had been scheduled for last weekend. In a stunner, both sides accused each other of sabotaging the negotiations.
The talks planned for last weekend were to discuss terrorism, and were to be led by the Indian and Pakistani national security advisers. Government sources say India was hoping to use the meeting as an opportunity to detail incidents of cross-border infiltration, and to prevent future attacks such as the recent one at Gurdaspur.
Pakistan, however, insisted that the situation in Kashmir must be included in the agenda. India refused, saying this contravened the Ufa agreement. Pakistan also inflamed the situation by noting that its ambassador in Delhi would be inviting leaders of separatists based in Indian Kashmir, who seek some independence or autonomy from Delhi, to a reception before the talks.
The Indian government saw this as an intentional provocation that hearkened back to Indian PM Modi unexpectedly canceling talks between the two countries’ foreign secretaries in August a year ago when the ambassador similarly invited the separatists for talks. Of note, India has unofficially tolerated these meetings for years, but Modi has turned more hard line on Pakistan recently, and political analysts say wanted to demonstrate that the separatists’ Hurriyat umbrella organization was not involved in India – Pakistan relations.
Although exactly at what level is unclear, Pakistan’s Foreign Ministry commented on Thursday that a meeting between senior border security officials from the two countries had been scheduled for next month.
Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi is a controversial figure. Elected as a business-friendly reformer to bring fresh air into politics in India, he has also been charged with complicity in fomenting the 2002 anti-Muslim Gujarati riots.