India & Pakistan exchange heavy gunfire in disputed Kashmir, 10 dead


Decades of tensions between India and Pakistan over the former princely state of Jammu and Kashmir escalated this spring after a terror attack killed dozens of Indian security personnel, and came to a head last week after New Delhi announced the suspension of the region’s special status.

Eight Indian and Pakistani military personnel have been killed amid intense skirmishes along the fragile Line of Control border between India and Pakistan on Thursday, the Pakistani military and local officials have reported.

The deaths were caused by two separate incidents, with the Pakistani military saying the casualties included three Pakistani soldiers. Five Indian soldiers were also killed, with “many injured” and their “bunkers damaged,” the Pakistani military claimed, adding that “intermittent exchange of fire continues.”

Indian army soldiers patrol near the highly militarized Line of Control dividing Kashmir between India and Pakistan, in Pallanwal sector, about 75 kilometers from Jammu, India, Tuesday, Oct. 4, 2016

India has yet to comment on the reports.

In a separate incident, two civilians were also reported killed and one injured in an exchange of fire in Rawalakot district, a senior official told AFP.

India and Pakistan have fought two wars over Kashmir, which was divided between them when they declared independence from the UK in 1947. Each side claims sovereignty over the entirety of the region. Tensions in Kashmir escalated in February, after a terrorist attack killed forty Indian security personnel in the region. New Delhi accused Pakistan of sheltering the al-Qaeda affilated group which claimed responsibility for the attack, and launched crossborder airstrikes at its camps. These strikes escalated into skirmishes along the border, including an air battle in which at least one Indian and one Pakistani jet were shot down.

Last week, India’s parliament voted to amend the Indian constitution, formally ending the state’s autonomous status under Article 370 and converting the state into two separate union territories – Jammu & Kashmir and Ladakh.

The measure was met with extreme hostility by Pakistan, with senior officials calling on Islamabad to break off diplomatic relations with India, and the country moving to expel India’s envoy, partially cutting off train surface, and closing Pakistani airspace to Indian flights.

Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi justified the abolition of Article 370 last Thursday, alleging the status did not benefit the people of the state, but only fostered “separatism, corruption, terrorism and family rule.”

Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan likened New Delhi’s actions to those of Nazi Germany, and accused India’s ruling coalition of changing the demographics of Khasmir “through ethnic cleansing.” On Wednesday, Khan warned that Pakistan’s military and people were ready to fight “to the end to defend ourselves and our sovereignty” amid the tensions, and said the international community would bear responsibility if a war were to break out between the nuclear-armed powers.

Pakistan and India have each reported beefing up their military presence in the region as a result of the tensions.