Indian and Pakistani forces on Friday waged their biggest artillery battle in several months leaving more than 10 dead and dozens wounded on either side of their disputed Kashmir frontier, officials said.
At least five separate clashes — involving shelling and gunfire — were reported along the 740-kilometer (460-mile) ceasefire line that has separated the nuclear-armed rivals for the past seven decades, officials from the two sides said.
Hundreds of villagers were moved away from the so-called Line of Control (LoC) in Indian-controlled territory, while Pakistani officials said dozens of homes were set ablaze by Indian shelling on their side.
The new peak in tensions came only five days after three Indian soldiers and three militants were killed in an exchange along the LoC. India is also involved in a border showdown with the Chinese army in the Himalayas.
The latest fighting erupted on Friday morning and shells were still being fired into the night, according to residents.
The two sides each accused the other of launching “unprovoked” attacks.
“Pakistan used mortars and other weapons” and “deliberately targeted civilian areas,” said an Indian army statement.
Three Indian soldiers were killed and three wounded in the Keran sector of the frontier. Kashmir police said three civilians were killed and at least three suffered serious injuries, with one man losing both legs.
On the other side of the border, Raja Farooq Haider, senior minister in Pakistani Kashmir, said five people were killed and 31 wounded in the intense shelling on the Neelum and Jhelum valleys.
“For how long we have to bear such colossal losses?” he said in a Twitter message directed at Pakistan Prime Minister Imran Khan.
Martyrdom of 5 innocent AJK civilians & injuries to another 31 by Indian Army in just 2 days, in addition to huge property loss, compels me to ask @ImranKhanPTI that who's responsible for the safety of my people along the CFL & for how long we have to bear such colossal losses?
— Raja Muhammad Farooq Haider Khan (@farooq_pm) November 13, 2020
A senior local official in Neelum, Raja Shahid Mehmood, confirmed the casualties and said the shelling was continuing late Friday.
Indian officers said the fighting was sparked when militants tried to cross into Indian-controlled territory at the northern end of the LoC.
Indian troops “retaliated strongly causing substantial damage to the Pakistan army’s infrastructure and casualties,” said the military statement adding that ammunition dumps and forward bases had been hit.
The two sides regularly stage artillery duels across the LoC and invariably blame each other for the clashes.
Kashmir has been divided between the two countries since their angry separation in 1947. It has been a cause of two of their three wars since then.
Both countries claim the whole of the Himalayan region, where India is also fighting an insurgency that has left tens of thousands dead since 1989.
Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi was to visit troops in a border area on Saturday for Diwali, the biggest Hindu holiday of the year, according to media reports. Modi, who portrays himself as tough on security, has spent every Diwali with the military since becoming the country’s leader in 2014.
Modi launched what he called “surgical strikes” inside Pakistani Kashmir in 2016 after militants attacked an Indian base killing 19 soldiers. The neighbors staged air strikes against each other last year after a suicide bomb attack in which more than 45 Indian troops were killed.