In the face of sustained firing from across the International Border and Line of Control, the government and the BSF took a hard line on Monday — promising to “retaliate effectively” and, in a departure from past practice, said they would neither speak to Pakistan nor seek a flag meeting to lower tensions.
Mortar and small arms fire that began overnight on Sunday, continued through Monday — the targets moving from the Arnia sector to R S Pura and Kanachak along the IB, and subsequently to the entire Bhimber Gali area, and the Krishna Ghati and Kerni sectors along the LoC in Poonch district, sources said.
Shelling was on until last reports came in late on Monday night, with the BSF and Army “strongly retaliating”.
During the day, Home Minister Rajnath Singh said Pakistan should stop ceasefire violations and “realise that the situation in India has changed”, and that the BSF director-general had been instructed to rush to the affected area.
Defence Minister Arun Jaitley deplored the unprovoked aggression and said “the onus of creating a positive environment is on Pakistan which is utterly failing to do so”.
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“Let everybody be assured that our armed forces, our paramilitary forces are fully ready and they are responding to… these provocations,” Jaitley said.
BSF DG D K Pathak told The Indian Express, “This time we are not going to speak to Pakistan nor ask them for a flag meeting. During the last flag meeting on August 24, it was decided by both sides to maintain peace along the border. They started (shelling) again after 35 days, and that too on Dussehra. We have decided to be aggressive and will retaliate effectively.”
The BSF has, on earlier occasions when ceasefire has been violated, taken the initiative to call for a flag meeting or speak to the Pakistan Rangers through designated hotlines.
The Pakistanis, on the other hand, claimed they had only responded to “unprovoked firing” from the Indian side, in which, they said, four civilians — two children, a woman and an elderly man — had been killed and 10 people, “including a child”, had been injured.
A Pakistani Inter Services Public Relations (ISPR) statement issued on Monday said that the “Pakistan Rangers had effectively responded to BSF fire”, but “no loss of life had been reported” on the Indian side. The Pakistan Foreign Office said it had lodged a strong protest with India through diplomatic channels.
Following the firing along the border, the Army stepped up vigil along the Line of Control (LoC) north and south of the Pir Panjal range, and strengthened counter-insurgency measures across Jammu and Kashmir.
Army sources said the forces were viewing the Pakistani firing as a “desperate attempt to facilitate the entry of terrorists before the winter sets in”.
According to these sources, Indian forces had, in response to Pakistani firing, destroyed a Pak post in the B-G sector on Sunday evening, triggering the Pak retaliation on Monday morning. There was firing in the Tangdhar sector between 2 am and 4 am on Monday, and in the Gambhir and Mendhar sectors from about 9 am through 3.30 pm. There was firing in the Banvat sector between 6 pm and 6.45 pm, the sources said.
They said formation commanders on the ground had been asked to give a “befitting reply” to the shelling.
“The Pakistani side… fired 82 mm mortars which resulted in the death of civilians. The civil administration has evacuated about 200 civilians from Arnia and R S Pura sectors to safer areas… We are more alert, and area domination drills such as patrolling, ambushes have been have been stepped up,” a top official said.
Colonel S D Goswami, spokesperson for the Udhampur- based Northern Command, said, “The terrorist threat remains real as the terrorist infrastructure across the borders remains intact. We have always responded adequately. Our LoC domination strategy has been
The Army on Monday killed three alleged militants in Tangdhar, taking the number of militants killed in September to 17. Four attempts at infiltration had been foiled last month, sources said. According to government figures, 24 militants had been able to breach the 700-odd km LoC until August this year — fewer than the 90 and 120 who had managed to cross over in 2013 and 2012 respectively.
Chief Minister Omar Abdullah, who visited the injured in hospital in Jammu, said Pakistan had been frustrated at having failed to internationalise the Kashmir issue during the UN Assembly session last month. “After suffering the worst floods in the last 60 years, the people of the state have got this Eid gift from Pakistan,” he said.
Four members of a family, including two women, died at Mahashey De Kothey, and a 75-year-old man was killed in Arnia town in the shelling.
The dead in Mahashey De Kothey were identified as Parshotam Lal, 38, his daughter Kajal, 15, sister-in-law Satya Devi, 42, and a cousin, Rajesh Kumar, 32. The man in Arnia was identified as Lal Chand.
“Members of Parshotam Lal’s family were sleeping in the open outside their house. Around 2.30 am, when the shelling began, his son Sunil opened the door of the house to ask them to come in. However, a shell hit the house almost simultaneously,” a villager, Tilak Raj, said.
At Arnia, a shell fell near Lal Chand’s house just as a jagraata was finishing, and people were preparing to turn in for the night. Several people were injured.
Kishore Kumar and eight others sleeping on the roof of his house were injured in the shelling. His uncle, Madan Lal, said Kishore had gone to bed after celebrating his daughter’s first birthday.
Dev Raj of Kotli Rayyan was sleeping inside his bus at Arnia bus stand when shells fell, injuring him and another driver, and damaging several parked vehicles.
Residents of the town said many more might have been killed or injured had the shelling occurred during the day. Among the buildings hit by the shells was a private nursery school.