NEW DELHI -- The Modi-Sharif handshake in Russia might prove to have been altogether badly timed. India and Pakistan yet again find themselves exchanging allegations and artillery across the border.
Pakistan government is seeking to shift blame for cross-border firing to the Indian side, India said today.
Foreign secretary S Jaishankar said that Pakistan had first begun firing on Wednesday morning. "At around 8.50 am, Pakistani rangers resorted to sniper fire in the Akhnoor sector in which one BSF person sustained injury," he told journalists here. "The firing originated from a Pakistani ranger's post called Khalid Munir. This was followed by firing by flat trajectory weapons on our post, and then in a different area by mortar fire."
The incident, which happened days after India and Pakistan agreed to re-engage after Prime Ministers of both countries met at Ufa, Russia at the sidelines of the BRICS summit, is raising questions about the intentions of the Pakistan army, a major factor in that country's polity in a way its Indian counterpart is not.
Jaishankar said that the same day at around 10.10 am, a mortar shell also fell on an Indian village where one woman was killed and three others were injured. As per procedure, the DIG BSF in Jammu tried to contact the Pakistani sector commander at Sialkot four times between 10.45 am to 12.30 pm yesterday but received no response, Jaishankar said.
After the National Security Advisor was informed about this, he spoke to the Indian High Commissioner in Islamabad, T C A Raghavan, at 11.30 am, asking him to take it up with the Pakistani government.
"We sought an end to the firing as well as corrective steps on their part," he said. The NSA also spoke to the Pakistani High Commissioner Abdul Basit in New Delhi, but "there was no response from the Pakistani government on our demarche," he said.
Instead, intermittent firing continued at the Akhnoor sector till 4.15 pm yesterday, according to Jaishankar, after which the NSA again spoke with the Indian high commissioner at 5 pm. He had taken the matter up with the Pakistani foreign secretary by that time. At 5.30 pm, Basit finally told the NSA that the firing had been initiated by India, and that an Indian drone had been "brought down by Pakistan". The Pakistani foreign secretary told the Indian high commissioner the same thing, following which the NSA offered to check the allegation.
"At the same time he pointed out [to the Pakistani high commissioner] that this was unrelated to maintaining peace and tranquility on the border," said Jaishankar. "He emphasised the seriousness of the unprovoked firing by Pakistan and conveyed that we would retaliate if it continued."
Last night, Indian forces retaliated, and today morning Basit informed the NSA that there had been casualties and damage on the Pakistani side. According to the Indian government, three suspected terrorists tried to infiltrate the border at the Jammu sector at Indreshwar Nagar, where they were given "covering fire by Pakistani post Jamshed". The exchange of fire expanded to include some nearby posts, Jaishankar told journalists, alleging that the Pakistani side "also resorted to some mortar firing, which was responded to, effectively, by us."
Jaishankar instructed the Indian high commissioner to urgently speak with the Pakistani foreign secretary, which the Pakistani side had requested last evening, and himself spoke with the Pakistani high commissioner.
Jaishankar's counterpart has handed over a note to the Indian high commissioner, where they have referred to yesterday's developments and blamed India for it.
'Drone Not Of Indian Make'
Jaishankar said that the drone that Pakistan has alleged to be Indian was in fact not of Indian design, or the kind the Indian armed forces use. "It appears to be of Chinese design, and commercially available off the shelves," he said on Thursday.
Pakistan on Thursday had summoned the Indian high commissioner claiming violation of its territory by an alleged Indian "spy" drone which was being used for aerial photography near the Line of Control (LoC).
Pakistan Army yesterday claimed that the Indian drone was being used for aerial photography near the LoC in Bhimber area of Pakistan occupied Kashmir (PoK) and was "brought down for violation of Pakistan's territorial integrity".
"An Indian spy drone was shot down by Pakistani troops which intruded into Pakistan along (the Line of Control) near Bhimber today. The spy drone is used for aerial photography," a statement from the Pakistani military said.
The Indian Army as well as the Indian Air Force, however, denied that any of their drone has been shot down or crashed.
Meanwhile, allegations by the Pakistani government that India had flown a helicopter near the border, Jaishankar said that the issue was resolved earlier. "That the Pakistani government, four days later, is raising a controversy over a settled issue speaks for itself," he said.
He claimed that the issue was resolved four days ago through an exchange of hotline messages between local formation commanders at Titwal on July 12 and 13. The helicopter flight was in connection with a counterterrorism operation where three terrorists were neutralised, he said, and India had clarified to Pakistan that it had remained "well within the mutually accepted distances of the LoC".
He said that while India would remain committed to ensure peace and tranquility at the border, it would retaliate to any unwarranted firing from the Pakistani side.
"There should be no doubt, that any unprovoked firing from the Pakistani side would meet with an effective and forceful response from our forces," he said. "Nor would we let down our guard against infiltration and cross-border terrorism."
(with agency inputs)