AN Army jawan and three civilians were killed while 15 people were injured as Pakistani troops targeted forward Indian positions and civilian areas both along the international border and Line of Control (LoC) in Jammu and Kashmir for the third day on Saturday. The injured included two security personnel.
The four deaths took the toll for January to 10, almost equalling the number of deaths in entire 2017 in such cross-border firings.
Given the “sensitive” situation, the state police on Saturday sounded a “red alert” and asked people living on the border to move out. All sanctioned leave of doctors and paramedical staff in the five border districts in Jammu region has been cancelled.
Nearly 15,000-20,000 people, from villages located within a 3-km distance of the international border from Kathua to Pargwal in Jammu, have already moved to safer areas and bullet-proof bunkers. As a precautionary measure, the state government has ordered closure of nearly 500 schools falling within 5 km of both the international border and LoC across Jammu region.
Though Pakistani Rangers keep targeting forward Indian positions and civilian areas, the firing of mortar shells at such intensity has come after over three years. Since the beginning of 2018, 10 people, including two Armymen and three BSF personnel, have been killed and nearly 50, mostly civilians, injured in Pakistani shelling and small arms fire from Kathua to Poonch. In comparison, the area saw around a dozen deaths, including of security personnel, while almost 36 were injured in entire 2017 in ceasefire violations. Nearly 3,000 people from border areas of Nowshera who were shifted to camps during this period have not been able to return.
Going by the long range and intensity of mortar shelling, sources said, regular Pakistani troops appear to have have joined its Rangers (a paramilitary force posted on the border) in the firing. The last time that mortar shells from across the border landed in civilian areas of R S Pura, Arnia and Ramgarh sector in Jammu was in October-November 2014.
Among those killed on Saturday were Sepoy Mandeep Singh of Punjab’s Sangrur district, posted in K G Sector in Poonch district, and Ghara Singh, 17, of Kapoorpur village, Ghar Singh, 35, of Bera Suchetgarh village, and Tasem Lal, 35, of Gajansoo village in Kanachak sector. Apart from BSF ASI Jarnail Singh, posted in Suchetgarh, and an SSB jawan at the Kanachak police station, the injured included civilians in Suchetgarh, Samka village, Gulabgarh Basti, Abdal village, and Gajansoo village.
Some shells also fell within the premises of the Kanachak police station, damaging some vehicles and smashing windowpanes.
There has been heavy damage to property in various areas in R S Pura and Arnia sectors, while villagers have also lost a number of cattle. Police cautioned people against sharing details on security deployed and advised them to “keep lights switched off” and “share no information with strangers in person or on phone”.
BSF sources claimed to have also inflicted heavy loss of life and property on the Pakistan side in retaliatory firing, saying on Saturday at least six Pakistani Rangers were killed while an ammunition depot was destroyed. Since Wednesday, they claim to have killed nearly two dozen Pakistani Rangers and two of its army regulars, besides destroying half of their dozen mortar positions.
Angry villagers contested these claims. “It should either rid us of this problem of firing from across the border once and for all, or kill all of us. For how long will we continue to see our houses damaged and near and dear ones killed?” said Madan Lal of Nai Basti.
Shano Devi of Korotana said that before making any claims, politicians should first spend a night with them. Minister for Food, Civil Supplies and Consumer Affairs Chowdhary Zulfikar Ali said they were assessing the losses so as to provide immediate relief. After the intensity of firing came down in the evening, Deputy Chief Minister Nirmal Singh visited the border areas. Earlier, in the Assembly, members of the Opposition staged a walkout over the border firing. The ruling BJP countered them by raising anti-Pakistan slogans.