September 2016 News
India Evacuates 10,000 From Border With Pakistan Amid Reprisal Fears After Kashmir 'strikes'30 September 2016
New Delhi: India evacuated 10,000 villagers from its border with Pakistan on Friday amid fears of military reprisals for cross-border 'strikes' it carried out in Pakistan-occupied Kashmir. Evacuations in the Indian states of Punjab and Jammu & Kashmir came as Delhi, the capital, and other major cities were placed under a state of high alert. Military surveillance was stepped up along Kashmir's Line of Control (LoC), the de facto border which separates the Indian- and Pakistani-controlled parts of the disputed Himalayan valley. The precautions follow a sharp rise in tensions between the nuclear-armed rivals over what India's military described as cross-border 'surgical strikes' against Pakistan-backed terrorists, carried out by its special forces before dawn on Thursday. The claims, which mark the first time India has publicly acknowledged crossing the LoC, have raised fears Pakistan may seek retribution using either conventional military means or by supporting anti-India militant groups. Although Pakistan on Friday denied India's claim that it had carried out any such 'surgical strikes', it condemned 'unprovoked firing', which it said had killed two Pakistani soldiers. Speaking after a Pakistani cabinet meeting, Nawaz Sharif, the prime minister, said: 'We will defend our homeland against any aggression. The entire nation is standing shoulder to shoulder with our armed forces.' Raheel Sharif, Pakistan's powerful army chief, warned that 'any misadventure by our adversary will meet the most befitting response from Pakistan.' Villagers within six miles of the border in Indian Punjab were told on Friday to leave their homes in case of shelling, with special camps set up for evacuees at Sikh temples and banqueting halls. Those unable to leave their homes were advised to remain indoors. In Jammu and Kashmir, settlements up to nine miles from the border were also advised to leave. Images showed crowded trucks, buses and boats being used to transport families away from the border. 'Our top priority is to move women and children to government buildings, guest houses and marriage halls,' said Normal Sing, the state's deputy chief minister. Fishermen in Gujarat were warned to stay far away from Pakistani waters. Shashank Joshi, a South Asia expert at the Royal United Services Institute, said shelling was likely to escalate at the border before the situation improved. 'For Pakistan, shelling is an easy way to show defiance and helps infiltration,' said Mr Joshi. 'India will respond and there will be an escalation of shelling which will have grave consequences for border villages, who suffer terribly in these cases.' 'But if the ceasefire breaks down too much it hurts India more than Pakistan. India will want to draw back soon.' India accuses Pakistan of supporting militants who have launched a spate of cross-border terror attacks on Indian targets in the past eight weeks, in order to foment unrest in the valley of Kashmir. The most recent such attack, on India's Uri army base on September 18, left 19 soldiers dead, the worst of its type in over a decade. Pakistan denies any role in the attack. India said Thursday's strikes targeted terrorists who were planning to infiltrate India from the Pakistan-controlled side. But Pakistan has accused India of deliberately escalating tensions at the border in order to divert the international community's attention away from violent protests in Indian-controlled Kashmir, which began with the killing of a popular separatist militant almost three months ago. That unrest had calmed in recent weeks, but separatists on Friday renewed their calls for strikes. Schools and hospitals remained closed, and restrictions on assembly of people are in place through much of the valley. Pakistan also claimed on Friday to have killed eight Indian soldiers, and captured one alive, amid retaliatory fire. India dismissed the claims of fatalities, and said video footage circulating on Pakistani media purporting to show Indian casualties had been doctored. But the fate of the missing soldier remained unclear, with India's home minister Rajnath Singh telling reporters on Friday that 'all efforts are being made to secure his release'.