A teenage boy lost his life in Leepa valley of Azad Jammu and Kashmir (AJK) after Indian troops resorted to heavy shelling on Wednesday, a day after less intense firing by them in Neelum Valley, officials said.
Eighteen-year-old Haroon fell victim to the Indian shelling in Bijildhar village of Leepa Valley, located nearly 100 kilometres southeast of Muzaffarabad.
Imran Shaheen, the deputy commissioner of Hattian Bala, of which Leepa Valley is an administrative unit, told Dawn that the shelling began at about 4pm and was continued into the evening.
“Due to darkness and poor telecommunication links with the mountainous area we are unable to immediately ascertain complete information of losses,” he said.
“Once the shelling stops or at least subsides, we may receive exact detail of losses,” he added.
Shaukat Javed Mir, a PPP leader belonging to Leepa Valley, told Dawn that the shelling was intense and caused panic in the area.
“Those who have bunkers or trenches within or alongside their houses have taken shelter there due to which we are unable to establish contact with anyone there,” he said.
According to Mir, there had also been shelling for more than an hour in the morning, “but from post to post” on opposite sides.
Since a similar exchange of fire between the rival troops had also taken place on the night of October 26, the civilian population was caught off guard when Indian troops started pounding the area with mortar shells in the afternoon, he said.
The last civilian casualty in Leepa Valley was reported on February 21, when a teenaged boy was critically injured in Indian shelling.
Violence returns to Neelum Valley
Wednesday’s shelling took place a day after the northeastern Neelum Valley received two mortar shells and small arms fire from across the LoC, after a considerable gap of almost 15 months.
On Tuesday afternoon, Indian troops had first fired a smoke bomb followed by two mortar shells in district headquarters Athmuqam, triggering a wave of panic among residents who had not heard the noise of guns after July 16, 2017, when a Pakistan Army vehicle was targeted by Indian troops, resulting in the martyrdom of four soldiers.
According to local police, Indian troops had also resorted to small arms fire in Rawta and Shingaan villages of Neelum Valley on Tuesday, but there were no casualties.
The 200km long Neelum Valley — a famous and frequently visited tourist destination — had long faced the brunt of heavy cross-border shelling until a ceasefire agreement in November 2003 brought much sought-after relief to its inhabitants.
Ever since, while the truce agreement saw numerous violations elsewhere, Neelum Valley had remained an exception.
However, the situation changed late in 2016, when initially a famous resthouse near Athmuqam was shelled by Indian troops on October 29 followed by shelling on a passenger coach on November 23 that left more than 10 people dead and several others wounded.
But with the exception of these three incidents, the LoC in Neelum Valley remained largely calm, paving the way for an influx of thousands of tourists from across the country to enjoy its natural beauty all year round.