First lull in Kashmir since latest India-Pakistan escalation
MUZAFFARABAD, Pakistan (AP) — Residents near the disputed boundary in the divided Kashmir region on Sunday experienced their first lull since a dangerous escalation between Pakistan and India erupted last week, bringing the two nuclear-armed rivals close to war.
Many villagers used the calm in Pakistani-held Kashmir to leave their homes in the Chakoti area along the so-called Line of Control — the demarcation line that divides the troubled Himalayan region into an Indian and a Pakistani sector — and move to safety.
Nazakat Hussain said his family and others lack underground shelters and had to leave. He said cold weather and snow, along with cross-border shooting, prevented them from leaving earlier.
Pakistani government official Moazzam Zafar said some 200 families have already taken shelter in three large government buildings in the territory. Zafar said the authorities were providing warm clothing, bedding, food and medicines, and would establish more shelters.
At least eight civilians and two soldiers have been killed in Pakistani-controlled Kashmir since tensions soared following India’s airstrike last Tuesday inside Pakistan. India said the strike targeted militants behind a Feb. 14 suicide bombing in Indian-controlled Kashmir that killed more than 40 Indian troops.
Pakistan retaliated, shooting down a fighter jet on Wednesday and detaining its pilot, who was returned to India on Friday. India, in turn, on Saturday handed over the body of a Pakistani civilian prisoner beaten to death by inmates in a jail in India last week. The man, Skahir Ullah, was buried Sunday in his home village of Sialkot in Punjab province.
Kashmir has been divided between India and Pakistan practically since their independence from British rule in 1947. The two countries each claim Kashmir in its entirety and have fought two of the three wars between them over it.
The rivals struck a cease-fire deal in 2003 but regularly trade cross-border fire.
On Sunday, British Prime Minister Theresa May spoke by phone with Pakistan’s Prime Minister Imran Khan, welcoming the return of the captured Indian pilot and reduction in tensions.
But she also urged Khan to crack down on terrorist groups operating in Pakistan, according to a Downing Street statement.
“The Prime Minister emphasized the importance of Pakistan taking action against all terrorist groups, in support of global efforts to combat terrorism,” the statement said.
Associated Press writers Zarar Khan in Islamabad and Danica Kirka in London contributed to this report.