India was evacuating thousands of people living near the border with Pakistan on Friday (September 30), a day after carrying out strikes along the de-facto frontier in disputed Kashmir.
Authorities in northern Punjab state said they were evacuating villages within 10 kilometres (six miles) of the border following Thursday’s raids, which provoked furious charges of “naked aggression” from Pakistan.
Indian sources said on Thursday that commandos had carried out “surgical strikes” several kilometres (miles) inside Pakistan-controlled Kashmir on what they called “terrorist” targets.
The dramatic move followed a deadly assault on one of India’s army bases in Kashmir that New Delhi blamed on Pakistan-based militants, triggering a public outcry and demands for military action.
Indian and Pakistani troops regularly exchange fire across the disputed border known as the Line of Control (LoC) in Kashmir, but sending ground troops over the line is rare.
Islamabad dismissed the talk of surgical strikes as an “illusion” and said two of its soldiers had been killed in small arms fire.
Indian media and sources said on Friday that an Indian soldier had been captured after “inadvertently” crossing the LoC in the Himalayan region, although officials on both sides of the border declined to comment.
Pakistani prime minister Nawaz Sharif was due to meet his cabinet on Friday to discuss the unfolding situation, facing international calls for restraint.
India and Pakistan have fought three wars since they gained independence from Britain seven decades ago, two of them over Kashmir.
India has also been on a diplomatic drive to isolate Pakistan since the raid on September 18, the worst such attack in more than a decade.
Jammu and Kashmir is India’s only Muslim-majority state and rebel groups there have for decades fought for independence from Hindu-majority India, or a merger with Pakistan.
Officials said some border villages in Jammu and Kashmir had been evacuated as a precautionary measure against possible shelling from the Pakistan side.
Larger-scale evacuations were organised in Punjab state, which neighbours Jammu and Kashmir, where thousands of people were being moved away from the heavily secured border.
Images from the state showed people piling bedding and cooking equipment onto trailers and cramming into crowded buses as security forces stood guard.
The Punjab government said it was setting up special camps for evacuees in the area.
The Indian army’s surprise announcement on Thursday that troops had carried out strikes sent stocks sliding, but the country’s media broadly welcomed the move.
The Indian Express called it a “defining moment” but said the government must now be vigilant to ensure that the “clamour for more” did not fuel an escalation in hostilities.
The Hindustan Times welcomed the strikes in a editorial headlined “Befitting response”, and said India would “take satisfaction from the revenge, served cold”.
In Pakistan, the Indian version of events was met with scepticism, with television news channels and newspapers reporting that such surgical strikes had not taken place. They reported small arms and mortar fire, which is a relatively routine occurrence on the heavily militarised LoC.
Pakistan’s Express Tribune, an affiliate of the New York Times, led its edition with the headline “‘Surgical’ farce blows up in India’s face”.
“These are India’s diversionary tactics… If they actually do an act like this, our army is ready,” Sartaj Aziz, the country’s foreign policy chief, told local television channel Geo TV.
Meanwhile, the Pakistan military claimed that it has killed eight Indian soldiers and captured one while retaliating to India’s firing at the first line of defence at the LoC at Tatta Pani, a media report said on Thursday.
Citing security sources, the Dawn newspaper said that the capture and killings occurred when the Indian army opened fire across the border, killing two Pakistani soldiers.
“The dead bodies of the Indian soldiers are still to be recovered by the Indian forces as they lay unattended at the LoC. Security sources say the Indian army has yet to recover the bodies for fear of coming under fire from Pakistan,” the paper claimed.
A Pakistan army statement said “an exchange of fire between Pakistani and Indian LoC troops began at 2am and continued till 8am in the Bhimber, Hotspring, Kel and Lipa sectors” and added that “Pakistani troops befittingly responded to Indian unprovoked firing on the LoC”. (AFP, Reuters, PTI)