UNITED NATIONS: Indian and Pakistani troops exchanged fresh fire across their border Saturday as UN chief Ban Ki-moon offered to mediate between the nuclear-armed neighbours following an alarming spike in tensions.
Two days after Indian troops claimed it carried out surgical strikes on the Pakistani side of their dividing line in disputed Kashmir; officials said there had been cross-border skirmishes further south.
Although there were no reports of casualties, the pre-dawn exchanges heightened the fear among villagers living along the border, tens of thousands of whom have already been ordered to leave home.
“There was small arms fire and mortar shells fire from across the border in Akhnoor sector which lasted for around two hours,” Pawan Kotwal, a top civilian official in India’s Jammu and Kashmir said.
A Pakistan military statement said its troops had “befittingly responded to Indian unprovoked firing” in the Bhimber sector on the Pakistani side.
The two countries, who were separated at birth at the end of British colonial rule in 1947, have fought three full-blown wars in the last seven decades – including two over Kashmir.
The Himalayan region, the Indian-held side of which forms the bulk of the Kashmir state, is at the heart of the latest tensions, which have been mounting in the last three months.
Since a Kashmiri separatist was shot dead by Indian soldiers in early July, more than 100 civilians have been killed in the region, many of whom had joined street protests in defiance of a curfew order.
Last month, an Indian army base came under an attack in Kashmir which Delhi blamed on militants who allegedly came from the Pakistani side of Kashmir.
India later sought to isolate Pakistan and has managed to persuade nearly all its other neighbours to boycott a regional summit which was to have been held in Islamabad in November.
A Pakistani envoy, Maleehi Lodhi, met Ban at UN headquarters in New York overnight to ask the veteran diplomat to intervene personally.
Ban called on “both sides to exercise maximum restraint and take immediate steps to de-escalate the situation”, a statement from his spokesman said after the meeting.
He said India and Pakistan should address differences through diplomacy and dialogue, and offered to mediate.
“His good offices are available if accepted by both sides,” the UN spokesman said.
Lodhi said, “The time has come for bold intervention by him if we are to avoid a crisis because we can see a crisis building up.”