Pakistan targets BSF posts, villages; India hits back with heavy fire.
India has turned the heat on Pakistan with massive retaliatory fire in response to ceasefire violations along the Line of Control (LoC) as well as the International Border (IB) in Jammu and Kashmir, leading to civilian casualties on both sides.
After five Indian civilians were killed and 34 injured in heavy fire from across the border in Arnia sub-sector of Jammu on Monday, which was followed by Pakistan targeting 40 BSF border outposts and adjoining villages through the night, India retaliated in even greater measure. Intelligence agencies tracking reports in Pakistani media on Tuesday estimated that more than 15 Pakistani civilians had died in the firing by BSF soldiers, mainly in the Sialkot sector
. No casualties were, however, reported on the Indian side in the latest exchange of fire
. Sources said BSF fired 1,000-1,200 shells overnight, inflicting damage on Pakistan's military infrastructure in the area.
The offensive intent of the Indian security establishment was also evident during the weekly DGMO hotline talks on Tuesday, with the Indian Army warning its Pakistani counterpart that the response to any provocation would be "intense, immediate and more than adequate" in keeping with the directions issued by Army chief General Dalbir Singh Suhag.
"We conveyed our concerns about ceasefire violations and civilians being targeted by Pakistani forces over the DGMO hotline. We asked them to exercise restraint and not escalate the situation. They, in turn, accused us of the same," said a source.
India's response was being monitored by the highest authorities in the government, with the forces being directed to submit hourly reports. Even as a still-recovering defence minister Arun Jaitley met the three Service chiefs at his house on Tuesday evening to review the situation, national security advisor Ajit Doval also sought regular reports from BSF on the scale of retaliation the force had mounted in different sectors
. (What a difference this is from the cowardly non response by Congi scamsters last year after the beheading of Indian soldiers)
There seemed little likelihood of matters cooling down anytime soon as neither India nor Pakistan were willing to budge from their hardline positions. While the exchange of fire across the international border had stopped at 8am, Pakistan Rangers resumed shelling around 5.30 in the evening, leading to retaliation from the BSF.
While intermittent exchange of fire along the LoC is an ongoing affair, India is furious with Pakistan for targeting civilians along the IB, which is a settled border and manned by BSF.
Sources said the massive retaliation by BSF was spread along a 150-km stretch on the IB in Arnia, RS Pura, Kanachak and Pargwal sub-sectors in Jammu and Samba after the area BOPs and adjoining villages received heavy fire from Pakistan. "Pakistan's high volume of fire, and its pattern, along the IB indicates it was a deliberate, planned operation with the Pakistan Rangers in front supported by their army from behind with ammunition stocks. In our retaliation, we have caused considerable damage to Pakistan Rangers' infrastructure in corresponding areas across the border," said an official.
Reflecting the mood in the establishment, a senior BSF official said, "If we hit them hard, they will come to the negotiating table themselves. We are not going to sit back and suffer for the sake of talks."
BSF chief D K Pathak said as much publicly. "There is no point in talking to Pakistan. They had in a flag meeting on August 29 pledged to maintain ceasefire. It took them just a month to renege on their commitment. They can ask for a flag meeting if they so wish. But whether we agree or not is going to be our prerogative
," the BSF chief told TOI.
Civilians on the Pakistani side stand to suffer more if the standoff continues. For, unlike in India's case, constructions on the Pakistani side stretch right up to the IB and are, hence, within striking reach of BSF guns that blazed ceaselessly from Monday evening to Tuesday evening.
Official sources blamed the loss of lives on both sides on Pakistan, saying BSF was left with no choice but to retaliate once Pakistanis chose to target civilians. "During the earlier confrontations, each side would stop shelling after 7am to avoid civilian casualties. This time they fired on people who had come out of their homes during day time thinking, based on their experience, that they would be safe," said a senior officer.
The ongoing flare-up can be traced to the shelling by Pakistan Rangers on October 3 which killed a girl in Chola village of Saujiyan in Poonch sector about 1.5 km from the fence. The provocation continued the following day when a couple of IED blasts along the LoC in the Mendhar sector, resulted in the killing of an Indian soldier: an incident which the Indian side blamed on terrorists working in conjunction with Pakistan army. The Indian Army retaliated with cross-border firing to take revenge.
Pakistani forces, in turn, chose to turn their focus to the IB sector and target civilians. On October 6, Pakistani rangers shelled Arnia town, killing four civilians and injuring many others — a provocation which escalated the situation.Sources said Pakistani forces are keeping the sectors north of the Pir Panjal range like Uri, Naugaon, Kupwara Tangdhar, Gurez and Macchal "relatively quiet" in a bid to push in as many militants as possible before the passes get snowed under in winter.
"These sectors have easy access to the Kashmir Valley for infiltrators... We have killed 17 militants in these sectors along the LoC in recent days. In two cases, it was found that the militants were carrying many more weapons than they usually carry to stockpile arms for the winter. As per our estimates, there are around 600 to 700 militants waiting to infiltrate into J&K, while another 800-1,000 are undergoing training in the 20 active terror-training camps across the border," said a senior Army officer. What has irked the Indian forces is that the firing from Pakistan, at places targeting civilians deliberately, started on the night of Dussehra celebrations and continues till now with just a day's break on October 4. There have already been 209 ceasefire violations by Pakistan this year on IB, while 125 violations have taken place on LoC. October itself has seen 63 violations by Pakistan on the IB.