NEW DELHI • India evacuated thousands of people living near the border with Pakistan yesterday as tensions rose between the nuclear-armed neighbours a day after New Delhi said it had carried out strikes along the de facto frontier in disputed Kashmir.
The evacuation of villages within 10km of the border in northern Punjab state came even as India said it was making attempts to secure the release of one of its soldiers who had accidentally strayed into Pakistani territory on Thursday.
Villagers in parts of Kashmir near the border with Pakistan were also being advised to evacuate their homes in case of shelling, or remain indoors if they were unable to leave, an official said.
Islamabad dismissed the talk of surgical strikes across the heavily militarised Line of Control (LoC) as an "illusion", and said two of its soldiers were killed in small-arms fire.
Pakistani Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif, who is facing international calls for restraint, said at a Cabinet meeting that Pakistan's commitment to peace "must not be construed as weakness".
"In case of any aggression or violation of the LoC, Pakistan will take all necessary steps to protect its people and territorial integrity," said a statement from the Cabinet office.
The United Nations said it is watching the situation "with great concern", and called on India and Pakistan to exercise restraint.
The United States also called on both countries to improve communications to reduce tensions.
"We've expressed repeatedly our concerns about the danger of terrorism, cross-border terrorism as well, in the region," US State Department spokesman John Kirby said at a press briefing.
Pakistan yesterday said it had sent envoys to Beijing to apprise the Chinese government of what it called the "deteriorating situation" in the Indian state of Jammu and Kashmir. Meanwhile, Indian Home Minister Rajnath Singh, speaking to the media in the capital New Delhi, said efforts were being made to free 22-year-old soldier Chandu Babulal Chauhan, who is being held in Pakistan.
Reports of the soldier's capture by the Pakistani Army came hours after the Indian Army announced that it had carried out strikes on terror launch pads in Pakistan-controlled Kashmir.
However, the Indian Army, in a statement, said the soldier did not take part in the surgical strikes and had "inadvertently crossed the Line of Control from the army post where he was on duty".
Pakistani officials did not comment on the issue.
Tensions between India and Pakistan have been high since Indian security forces in July began a crackdown on dissent in Indian-controlled Kashmir. Relations worsened last month after militants killed 18 soldiers during a raid on an Indian army base. New Delhi blames the attack on Islamabad.
Theatre owners in Pakistan yesterday said they have stopped screening Indian films in "solidarity" with the country's armed forces, after the escalation of violence.
"We have stopped screening Indian movies at our cinemas from Friday till the situation improves and normalcy returns," said Mr Nadeem Mandviwalla. His firm, Mandviwalla Entertainment, runs eight cinemas in Karachi and Islamabad.
The Indian Motion Picture Producers' Association, a small film-makers' body, on Thursday banned its members from hiring Pakistani actors. Mr Mandviwalla cited the move as another reason to stop screening Indian films.
Violence linked to terrorism has so far killed 201 people in Kashmir this year, the deadliest since 2010, according to the South Asia Terrorism Portal.
AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE, REUTERS, XINHUA