MUZAFFARABAD: Indian and Pakistani troops exchanged fire in some areas along the restive Line of Control (LoC) in the disputed Himalayan region of Kashmir on Sunday but no casualties were reported from anywhere, officials and residents said.

“There had been exchange of fire in parts of Samahni and Barnala tehsils, but fortunately there were not any casualties,” said Sultan Awan, superintendent of police in Bhimber, the southernmost district of Azad Jammu and Kashmir (AJK), of which Samahni and Barnala are two administrative units.

A resident told Dawn from Bhimber that Indian troops were using mortar guns and medium artillery to scare AJK population.

“There seems to be heavy troops build-up on the Indian held side of the LoC, but on our side we have not observed any unusual movement [of troops],” added the resident.

One resident says Indians used mortar guns and medium-range artillery

In Muzaffarabad division, Neelum valley remained comparatively calm on Sunday, a day after it faced heavy shelling from across the divide that had left three houses burnt to ashes in its highly vulnerable Bugna village.

“The guns had been silent today, but you never know when the wicked enemy will open fire without any provocation,” said Akhtar Ayub, a disaster management official in Athmuqam, Neelum valley’s district headquarters.

Syed Shahid Mohyiddin Qadri, secretary of the State Disaster Management Authority (SDMA), said directions had been issued to all district disaster management officers to ensure “proactive vigilance” in the wake of escalations along the LoC.

“These officers have been asked to maintain close contact with the State Emergency Operation Centre, working 24/7 in the SDMA office, and report any eventuality to it, responsibly and swiftly,” he said.

Meanwhile, AJK Prime Minister Raja Farooq Haider directed all departments concerned to remain on high alert to deal with any untoward situation arising out of unprovoked and unrelenting Indian aggression across the LoC.

In a statement issued from Saudi Arabia where he has gone to perform Umrah, Mr Haider strongly condemned Indian shelling saying targeting innocent people and their properties was an inhuman and cowardice act for which India should be held accountable by the international community.

“India is purposely mounting tensions along the ceasefire line (LoC) to divert attention from its worse internal situation,” he said.

He directed the SDMA and district administration to devise a comprehensive strategy to deal with any emergency situation with the help of armed forces.

“Not only the victims of ceasefire violations by the enemy should be rescued without loss of time, but they should also be provided all possible assistance with the cooperation of our armed forces,” he said.

Published in Dawn, December 23rd, 2019