SRINAGAR: Four people were killed when India and Pakistan traded heavy fire across their border early yesterday, with each country accusing the other of “unprovoked” military action.
“Two civilians were killed” and four people injured, including a paramilitary soldier, on the Indian side of the international frontier when Pakistani forces opened fire, Indian police inspector-general Rajesh Kumar said.
On the other side of the frontier, two Pakistani civilians — a woman and a 60-year-old man — “were martyred” by Indian fire, a senior Pakistani military official said. The neighbours accused each other of starting the pre-dawn firing.
The latest Pakistani fire targeted several Indian border posts, Indian police said. Many villagers living close to the border in the R S Pura area of Kashmir have been evacuated due to Pakistani firing, Kumar said.
But Pakistani officials said Indian troops initiated yesterday’s “unprovoked firing”, hitting the Sialkot region facing the south of Kashmir where another civilian was killed by Indian fire last month.
“Indian Border Security Forces (BSF) again resorted to unprovoked firing in the Chaprar and Harpal sectors,” the Pakistani senior military official said. Last month, Indian police accused the Pakistani army of killing a soldier during border firing in the same region.
Pakistan described the cancellation of the bilateral talks as a “setback” for relations and asserted the meetings with Kashmiri separatists were a traditional practice ahead of talks with India “to facilitate meaningful discussions”.
Meanwhile, accusing Prime Minister Narendra Modi of taking a “hardline” stand on Jammu and Kashmir, JKLF leader Yasin Malik has pledged to intensify the separatist campaign.
Replying to questions in Rajat Sharma’s TV show Aap Ki Adalat, Malik said: “Modi’s message is very clear. He is not going to give us (separatists) any diplomatic or political space. He wants to create such an atmosphere.
“The people of India have elected Modiji as prime minister. Now that he has decided to take a hardline approach, we in Kashmir are ready (to face that), and we will strengthen our movement.
“It is a testing time for us, now that Modi has come. For us, hard days (are here). God willing, we will pass this test,” Malik said.
Malik along with Hurriyat Conference leaders Syed Ali Shah Geelani and Mirwaiz Umar Farooq as well as Shabir Shah met Pakistan’s envoy in New Delhi this week, triggering a diplomatic row after which India axed the foreign secretary level talks in Islamabad.
The Jammu and Kashmir Liberation Front (JKLF) leader pointed out that it was then prime minister Atal Behari Vajpayee who allowed Kashmiri separatist leaders to go to Pakistan in 2000 so that an atmosphere for a peaceful dialogue could be created.
“Kashmiri (separatist) leaders meeting Pakistani officials has a 24-year-old precedent. Whenever their PM or foreign secretary visit India, we used to meet them.
“It is wrong to say we have spoiled the (India-Pakistan) peace process. On the contrary, we were trying to strengthen the peace process so that all the stakeholders can express their views,” he said.
Malik added: “Kashmiris are major stakeholders in the dispute but the external affairs ministry has now come up with the contention that India and Pakistan are the only stakeholders on the Kashmir issue.
“Our message to Modi is: You may give good governance but you cannot finish off a movement by adopting a hardline approach.
“We are not a third party. It’s my belief that the Kashmir issue is not a border dispute between India and Pakistan, where both the countries sit and decide about the fate of Kashmir. This is not acceptable to Kashmiris.
“It is our legitimate, democratic right to decide our own fate. Kashmiris will have to be included in any talks relating to their fate.”
Asked how could the Hurriyat leaders claim to be the sole representative of Kashmiris, Malik replied: “(Chief Minister) Omar Abdullah and (PDP chief) Mehbooba Mufti had no dispute with the Centre. “It is we in the Hurriyat who consider Kashmir a disputed issue.