Pak firing kills 5 more; PM gives free hand to armed forces

08 October 2014

The continuing cross fire over the Line of Control in the western border claimed five more civilian lives today while thousands fled their homes near the border areas and took refuge in camps following an escalation of firing by Pakistani rangers.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi with President Pranab Mukherjee at the Air Force anniversary functionA total of eight Indian civilians have so far been killed since Pakistan started shelling the border villages more than a week ago - in some of the most intense firing by Pakistani forces in a decade.

While exchanges of sporadic fire are common along the de facto border dividing the region, civilian deaths are unusual.

Indian military observers point to some 2,000-odd mercenaries amassed along the border waiting to cross over to India under the cover of Pakistani gunfire. In fact the Army killed three militants on Monday.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi, who is busy with his election campaign, is reported to have given the forces and his advisers a free hand in dealing with the situation.

Asked about the situation at the border with Pakistan, the PM, however, said everything will be fine soon.

"We are all concerned and want an early solution to it," Air Chief Marshal Arup Raha said. "We don't want to let the issue become serious."

A senior border security force official said Indian forces had retaliated to machine gun and mortar attacks on about 60 positions along a more than 200-km (125-mile) stretch of the border on Wednesday.

Some 18,000 Indian civilians have fled their homes in the lowlands around Jammu due to the fighting, and have taken refuge in schools and relief camps.

The fighting comes at a time when Pakistan's army is taking a more assertive role in politics while India's new nationalist Prime Minister Narendra Modi is promising a more robust foreign policy.

Pakistani Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif has been weakened by opposition protests that started in August. Although he won the army's backing, he has ceded space to the generals on some issues, including relations with India.

Modi, who was elected to power in May, is following through on a promise to take a harder line with Pakistan in its border disputes. He also cancelled a round of talks with Pakistan after Pakistani envoy consulted Kashmiri separatists before the start of talks.

Amidst an intensification of ceasefire violations along the border in Jammu and Kashmir, Modi has now made it clear that no talks with Pakistan will be held unless it stops cross-border firing. The prime minister has reportedly also told the National Security Advisor that there'll be no question of succumbing to Pakistan's tactics, and the armed forces and border security forces will continue to have a free hand in dealing with it.

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