MIRPUR/Islamabad - An Indian shell yesterday killed the driver of a school van and injured several children in Azad Kashmir, prompting Pakistan to lodge a strong protest against Indian troops’ unending shelling on populous areas and their deliberate targeting the civilians living near the LoC.

The van was targeted in Mohra Sharif village of Nakial sector along the Line of Control (LoC) and four of the eight injured children received serious wounds, according to local officials.

The Indians resorted to unprovoked firing at Dabsi and other forward villages too in Nakial sector of Kotli district, a district administration officer told The Nation.

Zeeshan Haider, a senior government official, said the driver of the targeted van, carrying pupils from a private school, was killed on the spot while the children, aged between 10 and 15 years, were taken to hospital amid heavy shelling.

Nakyal SHO Sardar Iftekhar confirmed the incident and casualties and said the wounded children included five girls and three boys.

Nakyal hospital doctor Muhammad Nasrullah Khan said the children had shrapnel injuries but their condition was not life threatening.

The firing was a violation of a 2003 ceasefire, the Pakistani army's media wing said in a statement. "Pakistani troops effectively responded and targeted Indian posts from where fire was coming," it said.

The Indian army had no immediate comment on the Pakistani report but a spokesman told Reuters Pakistani forces had fired first and the Indian side had given a "befitting reply", in a usual counter-allegation leveled each time after an episode of unprovoked firing by the Indians.

Months of tension between India and Pakistan have erupted into shelling and gunfire across the Kashmir frontier, claiming the lives of dozens of people. At least nine people were killed and seven others wounded late November in the Indian fire at a passenger van in the village of Nagdar in Azad Jammu and Kashmir.

Pakistan yesterday lodged strong protest to India on the unprovoked ceasefire violations and targeting of the school van. According to Foreign Office, Indian Deputy High Commissioner JP Singh was summoned to Foreign Office.

He was told by Director-General South Asia at the foreign ministry Dr Mohammad Faisal that the deliberate targeting of civilians, villages and civilian transport and a school van is condemnable and contrary to human dignity as well as international human rights and humanitarian laws.

“Indian side was urged to respect the 2003 Ceasefire Understanding; investigate this and other incidents of ceasefire violations. India was asked instruct its forces to respect the ceasefire, in letter and spirit, stop targeting the villages and civilians and maintain peace on the LoC,” an FO statement said.

According to military record, India has committed more than 200 ceasefire violations this year, targeting Bhimber, Nakial, Battal, Jandrot, Neza Pir, Chakothi, Lipa, Taobat, and Keran sectors and other areas.

Pakistan-India tensions have been ever growing after killing of a Kashmiri freedom fighter, Burhan Wani, by the Indian forces in July and an attack on an Indian military camp in held Kashmir in September that killed 19 soldiers.

Amid the tension, Pakistan has been more positive, showing restraint along the LoC and speaking about the dialogue process. It also participated in the Heart of Asia Conference despite India’s decision to skip the South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (Saarc) summit in November. The Saarc meeting was eventually postponed after other countries also walked away.

At the Heart of Asia Conference too, India attacked Pakistan blaming it for allegedly supporting terrorism. It also provoked Afghanistan to hurl allegations at Pakistan despite Islamabad efforts for peace in the war-torn country.

The United States and other countries have also been pressing India to resume the dialogue process and end the ongoing skirmishes along the LoC for the sake of the regional peace.

 

AH Rao and Sharafat Ali