MUZAFFARABAD: Indian troops on Wednesday shelled civilian populations almost all along the Line of Control in Azad Jammu and Kashmir after a daylong lull and hit a passenger bus, leaving 10 civilians dead and 21 others injured. Three army personnel also lost their lives in an exchange of fire across the LoC, officials said.
These are the heaviest civilian killings in a single day over the past 13 years since India and Pakistan signed a ceasefire agreement in November 2003.
The major incident took place in the Neelum valley, where shelling started at 3am, but intensified after sunrise, according to Jamil Ahmed Mir, Superintendent of Police in Neelum.
At around 8.30am, the Muzaffarabad-bound passenger bus was hit near Lawat Kanari, about 97km northeast of here, leaving eight passengers dead and eight others wounded. Witnesses told Dawn that two men on a motorcycle were passing through the area when the bus was hit. As a result, one was killed and the other wounded.
The victims were taken to the district headquarters hospital in Athmuqam. The deceased were identified as Mukhtar Shah, Mohammad Younas Ahmed, Mohammad Zubair, Mohammad Ashraf, Mohammad Rafique, Iqbal Malick, Zahoor Shah and Khawaja Manzoor — all residents of the Neelum valley. The injured included Mohammad Bashir, Khawaja Imran, Khawaja Jawad, Bashir Shah, Sharafat Shah, Fazal Hussain, Raja Gulfam, Khawaja Sultan and Mohammad Shafi. Three of them were brought to Muzaffarabad in a critical condition.
“When we reached two kilometres ahead of Lawat, firing began… And shortly afterwards a shell landed on the bus, killing four persons on the spot, but I took the vehicle ahead to a comparatively safe portion of road,” said the wounded driver at a hospital in Muzaffarabad.
A minor girl and a man were also injured in the shelling near Athmuqam, a police officer said.
For the first time since the outbreak of hostilities, the Neelum valley, which had become a tourist hub in the past decade, was also hit indiscriminately. Since the main artery of the 200km-long valley is exposed to Indian gun positions, life there was virtually crippled by the cross-border shelling.
AJK Legislative Assembly Speaker Shah Ghulam Qadir, who was elected from the Neelum valley, said the situation was critical all along the LoC.
“I call upon the government of Pakistan to take up the issue of unprovoked shelling of civilian populations in the UN Security Council to build pressure on India,” he said at a press conference in Muzaffarabad.
Since the valley was highly vulnerable to Indian guns, “a great trial has begun for its nearly 250,000 residents”, he said, adding that Indian troops were not even allowing transportation of the injured to Muzaffarabad as they had also hit an ambulance.
One person was killed and seven were injured in the shelling in Kotli district. Three people were wounded in Poonch district.
Mohammad Ramzan, an official at the deputy commissioner office in Kotli, said that a man, identified as Adnan Khalid, was killed and six people were injured in the Nakyal sector. One woman was wounded in the Tatta Pani sector.
Two men and a woman were injured in the Battal sector in Poonch district, according to SP Mir Abid.
Bhimber district was also hit by the shelling, but no casualties were reported from there.
According to the officials, 38 civilians have been killed and over 115 wounded in the Indian shelling since early August.
AJK President Sardar Masood Khan, Prime Minister Raja Farooq Haider and leaders of almost all political parties vehemently condemned the “unprovoked and unrelenting” Indian shelling, particularly the firing on the passenger bus, terming it a “dastardly act of the enemy”.
In a statement, the Inter Services Public Relations (ISPR) confirmed that Pakistani and Indian troops had exchanged fire across the LoC, which had caused death of three army personnel on Wednesday, apart from the civilian casualties.
“Three Pakistani soldiers valiantly embraced Shahadat at the LoC while responding to Indian unprovoked firing,” it said.
They were identified as Capt Taimoor Ali Khan, Hawaldar Mushtaq Hussain and Lance Naik Ghulam Hussain.
The ISPR said the bodies had been sent to their native areas, where burials would take place with full military honours on Thursday.
It claimed that seven Indian soldiers were confirmed dead in retaliatory fire by the Pakistan Army. The exchange of fire was continuing, it added.
The ISPR said Indian troops were now targeting civilian populations across the LoC in order to “distract attention from real issue of their atrocities in India-held Kashmir”.
Published in Dawn, November 24th, 2016