NEW DELHI/ ISLAMABAD:
Pakistan reiterated its commitment to peace on Thursday after unprovoked firing by Indian forces along the working border near Sialkot left at least four civilians dead. The attacks came a day after the military shot down an Indian ‘spy’ drone near the Line of Control (LoC) in Azad Kashmir.
Three people were killed and five more were injured by a bout of cross-border firing by India’s Border Security Force (BSF) on the working boundary near Sialkot, according to the military’s media wing, the Inter-Services Public Relations (ISPR). The deceased were identified as Ghulam Mustafa, Rahat and Boota from Malana and Salehpur villages.
Read: Five killed in Indian BSF firing near Sialkot: ISPR
In another firing incident, an 18-year-old girl named Zareena Bibi was shot dead at the LoC in Rawalakot, Kashmir. The Pakistani troops also responded to the Indian aggression while exercising restraint, the ISPR statement read.
Indian envoy summoned
The Foreign office summoned the Indian high commissioner and lodged a strong protest over the cross-border attacks by the Indian forces as well as the airspace violation by the Indian drone the other day.
The Indian envoy was told the drone had entered Pakistan’s airspace in violation of international laws and infringed upon the country’s territorial integrity.
Foreign Secretary Aizaz Ahmed Chaudhry said the drone’s intrusion into Pakistani territory violated the two agreements of 1991 on airspace violations and standard operating procedures of advance notice for military exercises, military manoeuvres and troop movement, the official FO statement said. The secretary said ‘Heli manoeuvres’ staged by India near the LoC on July 11 showed its offensive and threatening posture.
The FO statement said that Chaudhry emphasised that in the spirit of maintaining peace and tranquillity at the Pak-India border, and the region at large, it was important that the 2003 Understanding on maintaining ceasefire was observed.
FO spokesperson Qazi Khalilullah said unprovoked firing by India at the border was against the spirit of the understanding reached in a recent meeting of the Pakistani and Indian premiers in Ufa, Russia.
He, however, added that Pakistan would not turn away from discussing all outstanding issues with India. “Peace and tranquillity on the LoC and the Working Boundary is in the interest of both sides,” he said at his weekly news briefing in Islamabad.
Read: Pakistan Army shoots down Indian 'spy drone'
Responding to a question about a recent statement by the Indian high commissioner that Azad Kashmir was under “illegal occupation” of Pakistan, the FO spokesperson insisted that Kashmir was a disputed territory and any unilateral decision could not change its status. “There are UN Security Council resolutions on Kashmir. It is India which is occupying Kashmir in violation of these resolutions. Unilateral measures make no difference to the disputed status of Kashmir,” he argued.
India lodges protest
New Delhi also lodged a protest with Pakistan, alleging the firing along the working boundary was initiated by the Pakistani border personnel.
Indian Home Minister Rajnath Singh called a meeting of Foreign Minister Sushma Swaraj and Defence Minister Manohar Parrikar at his North Block office to discuss the alleged ceasefire violations and the drone shot down by Pakistan.
Retorting to the Pakistani High Commissioner Abdul Basit’s charge that the firing had been initiated by India and the drone belonged to India, Indian Foreign Secretary S Jaishankar claimed the drone was not of the design used by Indian forces and was of Chinese origin that could be purchased commercially.
Addressing a press conference, he said when the firing started India’s BSF in Jammu tried to contact officials across the border but got no response. “Then we retaliated,” he added.
These developments come days after an ice-breaking meeting between Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif and his Indian counterpart Narendra Modi in the Russian city of Ufa, where both sides decided to resume the dialogue process stalled since mid-2014.
PM Modi is scheduled to visit the scenic Kashmir Valley on Friday (today) to celebrate Eid with its residents. A huge financial package for the state is also expected to be announced. But the exchange of fire may put a damper on his visit.
Published in The Express Tribune, July 17th, 2015.