Tensions between India and Pakistan continue to rise, with the war of words rumbling on between the two nuclear-armed neighbors.
Two Pakistani soldiers lost their lives in an episode of cross-border firing in Kashmir on Thursday, action which India claims were “surgical strikes.” However Pakistan has since “completely rejected” India’s claims, according to Reuters.
Surgical strike claims rejected by Pakistan
India says that it sent troops into Pakistan to kill suspected militants. At the same time New Delhi has evacuated villages near the disputed border in Kashmir due to fears of military action.
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The announcement of “surgical strikes” is a rare public recognition of such action. India claimed that special forces were sent over the border to kill militants who were getting ready to sneak into India and launch terror attacks.
According to Indian officials the troops killed more than ten militants. The soldiers were reportedly back at base before sunrise.
However these claims have been disputed by Pakistan. Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif said that India engaged in unprovoked firing across the heavily militarized border, killing two soldiers.
“The Cabinet joined the Prime Minister in completely rejecting the Indian claims of carrying out ‘surgical strikes’,” Sharif’s office said in a statement published following Friday’s cabinet meeting.
The statement said that Pakistan was prepared “to counter any aggressive Indian designs,” but no further details were given.
Indian soldier captured in Pakistan
Pakistan reportedly captured an Indian soldier on its territory on Thursday. India says that the capture was not related to the raid and the soldier had crossed the border by mistake.
Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi has come under increasing domestic pressure to retaliate after 19 soldiers died in a militant attack at an army base in Kashmir on September 18. India blames the attack on militants who crossed the border from Pakistan.
According to a senior leader from Modi’s ruling party, the Indian response has been fitting. The official praised India’s “multi-pronged” response.
“For Pakistan, terrorism has come as a cheaper option all these years. Time to make it costly for it,” wrote Ram Madhav, national general secretary of the Bharatiya Janata Party, in a column for the Indian Express newspaper.
New Delhi attempts to isolate Islamabad
India is also trying to isolate Pakistan diplomatically. New Delhi will boycott a summit of South Asian leaders in Islamabad this November, and Afghanistan Bangladesh and Bhutan have since said that they cannot attend.
On Friday Sri Lankan officials said that peace and security were essential for cooperation in the region. However it did not pull out of the summit.
The surgical strikes have been given a warm response in India, but opinion in Pakistan varies between skepticism and ridicule.
Local media sources claim that only small arms and mortar fire took place, which is common in border regions.
The headline of Pakistan’s Express Tribune read: “‘Surgical’ farce blows up in India’s face.” Tensions have also manifested themselves in culture.
Cinemas in Pakistan are no longer showing Indian films in “solidarity” with the military, as well as in response to a ban on hiring Pakistani actors at one Indian filmmakers’ group. Bollywood films remain hugely popular in both India and Pakistan.
India evacuates villagers from border areas
The announcement of surgical strikes raised the possibility of military escalation. This could end a Kashmir ceasefire that was reached in 2003.
In response to this threat, India evacuated over 10,000 villagers from border areas. Officials ordered enhanced surveillance of the border in Jammu and Kashmir state.
“Our top priority is to move women and children to government buildings, guest houses and marriage halls,” said Nirmal Singh, deputy chief minister of Jammu and Kashmir. “People who have not been able to migrate were instructed not to venture out of their houses early in the morning or late in the night.”
Rakesh Singh, a 56-year-old farmer who lives in Jammu, said that his family had left home due to the threat of Pakistani artillery strikes. “We suffer the most,” he said. “It is nothing new for us.”
Anti-India protests continue to rock Indian-held Kashmir, and more than 80 civilians have died in the past ten weeks of violent demonstrations. Thousands more people have been wounded in unrest sparked by the killing of a young separatist militant.
On Friday Pakistan announced that Sharif’s special envoys had arrived in China to brief officials on the situation in Kashmir. China is an ally of Pakistan and has expressed concern over recent events, said the Pakistani foreign ministry.
The geopolitical situation remains highly complicated in the region, and any military escalation could draw other powers into play.