Pakistan, India trade fire over frontier

SRINAGAR (India) • Indian and Pakistani forces exchanged fire across their disputed frontier over the weekend - even as Muslims celebrated the festival of Eid al-Fitr - injuring several civilians and raising tensions, despite a recent agreement aimed at improving ties.

Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi met his Pakistani counterpart, Mr Nawaz Sharif, at a summit in Russia this month, and they agreed that their top security officials would hold talks.

The nuclear-armed neighbours also agreed to expedite the trial of people charged in connection with a 2008 attack on Mumbai, which India blamed on Pakistani-based militants.

Mr Modi also accepted an invitation from Mr Sharif to visit Pakistan.

However, in recent days, frontier clashes have raised doubts about any real thaw.

Eid al-Fitr, which marks the end of the fasting month of Ramadan, has seen gestures of reconciliation between the two sides before, such as the the exchange of festive sweets in the Muslim-majority region of Kashmir.

But not this year. "The Pakistan army started shelling and firing on forward villages in Poonch sector when people were busy celebrating Eid... targeting army posts and civilian areas, creating panic among the civilian population," said Indian defence spokesman Manish Mehta, referring to an area in the south of Kashmir.

On the Indian side, five civilians were injured and several houses damaged, officials said.

In a foreign ministry statement, Pakistan said Indian forces fired small arms, rockets, mortar and heavy machine guns across the border.

The statement, issued late last Saturday, comes days after Islamabad summoned the Indian ambassador, following the shooting down of what it called an Indian spy drone in Kashmir.

"It is deeply regretted that, once again, ceasefire violations by the Indian troops are being committed during the Eid holidays, as was done by them last year, when many innocent civilians were martyred," the statement said.

Earlier, Pakistani officials said Indian fire last Wednesday and Thursday killed four civilians - one in Kashmir and three near Sialkot town close to the border.

India, which is largely Hindu, and Muslim Pakistan have fought three wars since becoming separate nations in 1947 - two over Kashmir, which they both claim in full but rule in part.

Ironically, Pakistan's envoy to India said over the weekend that Islamabad was committed to improving bilateral ties to resolve common issues.

"We hope relations between the two countries will improve and, if both sides have the will, then there is no reason that our issues such as poverty, illiteracy and disease cannot be resolved," Pakistani High Commissioner Abdul Basit rold reporters in New Delhi.

REUTERS, AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on July 20, 2015, with the headline 'Pakistan, India trade fire over frontier'. Print Edition | Subscribe