Mandol, Kashmir, October 3, 2016: The village of Mandol in Pakistan-controlled Kashmir along the banks of the Poonch River is just 2,100 meters from the Pakistani military post that authorities say came under fire from India last Thursday.
Villagers here say the explosions rattled their houses as usual when Pakistani troops opened retaliatory fire, and they ran for cover in bunkers until five-hours of gunfire ended.
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India said its troops carried out “surgical strikes” on alleged terrorist camps on the Pakistani side of the ceasefire boundary, named the Line of Control, or LoC.
Pakistan’s military, however, swiftly rejected any assertion that Indian forces crossed the heavily militarized line, which divides the Himalayan territory between the nuclear-armed arch-rival nations.
Instead Pakistani authorities asserted a routine exchange of fire across the LoC that killed two Pakistani soldiers, while several others sustained minor injures.
Security officials in Islamabad also say that if Indian forces had crossed into Pakistan, it would have been treated as a declaration of war.
The military flew a group of journalists on Saturday to Mandol and Bagsar, two of the several sites of the skirmishes, to reassert their side of the story as bilateral tensions continue to simmer.
“We would have known it if Indian troops secretly came across the the LoC,” said Mirza Abdul Waheed, a local political figure.
The officers briefed the media on the challenges both the mountainous terrain and military deployment would have made it rather “impossible” for Indian soldiers to physically cross over to Pakistani side to undertake any action like “surgical strikes”.
“That’s a total lie. It is very difficult to comprehend. It is unimaginable,” said. Maj-General Muhammad Chiragh Haider, the commander of the 23rd Infantry Division of the Pakistan Army.
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“We met a surgical strike and we did not know what had happened. Were they so magical or so mysterious I cannot say, but what happens actually here is slightest movement is picked and it is responded in a strong manner.The entire areas is in front of you,” he asserted.
General Bajwa asked India to produce evidence of any damage caused on the Pakistani side.
“Where is that damage? Where are the bodies of the people they killed and where did the invading Indian soldiers go,” he asked.
Bajwa said Pakistan is open to the U.N. mission [for any probe] and to media, and has nothing to hide. He asserted that most of the area that came under attack from India on Thursday is linked to the rest of the world through cell phones and the internet, making it difficult for anyone to prevent locals from putting information or images on social media had there been any physical Indian incursion.
While the United Nations and the United States urged both India and Pakistan to defuse tensions to reduce changes of another war between them, residents in villages near the ceasefire line appeared calm, with schools and markets opened and farmers busy working in their fields.
General Bajwa would not confirm whether an Indian soldier was captured by Pakistani troops after the clashes broke out, saying “inadvertent crossers” is a routine matter along the more than 700 kilometer LoC and authorities take time to ascertain their identity.
He said Pakistan has been officially convey by Indian authorities that an Indian solider has inadvertently crossed over to the Pakistani side. “We are checking out details on ground, we are in the process of ascertaining,” Bajwa added.
The general avoided speculating on whether Pakistan and India are on the verge of another full scale war. “You can see that all the escalation and signal for escalation, any claims of movement like evacuation of the border villages is coming from the Indian side. We are not in any mood to imitate anything but if anything gets initiated from their side it will get a very comprehensive and very befitting response,” he said
Responding to Indian terrorism charges, General Bajwa reiterated that Pakistan has been fighting a major war against terrorism on its own soil with full commitment and those operations being undertaken by more than 200-thousands troops are moving towards the concluding stage.
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“It will be very unfortunate if we have to pull out troops from their and bring them on the eastern border [with India],” the army spokesman said when asked whether further escalation in tensions with India would promote Pakistan to redeploy troops from the western border with Afghanistan.
Such an invasion and damage inflicted on this side would have not skipped local attention, he added.Other residents gathered nearby narrated similar impressions to reporters.
Regional military commanders and Pakistan army spokesman, Lt. General Asim Bajwa, accompanied the journalists to Tata Pani, where Mandol is located, and Bhimber, the two sectors along the de facto Kashmir border. (VOA)