India, Pakistan locked in border fighting amid coronavirus crisis

Pakistan says it shot down Indian drone in Kashmir region as troops engage in worst cross-border clashes in two years.

    India's Border Security Force (BSF) soldiers patrol near the India-Pakistan border fence at Suchet Garh in Ranbir Singh Pura, about 27km (17 miles) south of Jammu [Channi Anand/AP]
    India's Border Security Force (BSF) soldiers patrol near the India-Pakistan border fence at Suchet Garh in Ranbir Singh Pura, about 27km (17 miles) south of Jammu [Channi Anand/AP]

    Indian and Pakistani troops in disputed Kashmir are engaged in their most frequent cross-border fighting for at least two years, official data shows, even as the nuclear-armed rivals battle surging coronavirus outbreaks.

    Indian Army data reviewed by Reuters news agency shows 411 ceasefire violations by Pakistan's military in March, the highest number in a single month since at least 2018. That compares with 267 violations in March last year recorded by the Indian Army.

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    Meanwhile, Pakistan's army said on Thursday it had shot down a small Indian surveillance drone in the Pakistan-administered Kashmir region, according to a report by the AFP news agency.

    According to a statement from the army media wing, the Indian quadcopter - about the same size as a commercially available hobby drone - had crossed 600 metres (650 yards) over the de facto border known as the Line of Control (LoC), an informal border in Kashmir.

    "This blatant act was aggressively responded to by Pakistan Army troops shooting down Indian quadcopter," the statement read.

    An Indian army spokesman said the drone "is not ours".

    Tensions amid coronavirus lockdown

    The incident came as Pakistan and India accuse each other of violating ceasefire terms at the LoC, with sporadic shelling reported from both sides.

    "[The] Pakistan Army never initiates ceasefire violations along LoC, but it has always responded befittingly to Indian Army’s unprovoked firing," said Major-General Babar Iftikhar, of the public relations wing of the Pakistan Army.

    Iftikhar said Pakistan's military had recorded 705 ceasefire violations by the Indian Army since the beginning of the year. The Indian Army data showed 1,197 Pakistani violations during the same period.

    Reuters said it is not in a position to independently verify the competing claims.

    Four Indian army officials said the heightened border activity was a cover to help militants from Pakistan-backed groups infiltrate into Indian-administered Kashmir, as some troops help to run health camps and hand out food in the battle on the covonavirus.

    "The increase in ceasefire violations is an indication that Pakistan is trying to push militants into the Kashmir valley," said one of the officials, who all sought anonymity because they were not authorised to speak to media.

    India has 5,734 infections, including 166 deaths, while Pakistan has reported 4,072 cases and 58 deaths, with the military of each helping its government's efforts against the virus.

    india pakistan border
    India's Border Security Force (BSF) soldiers patrol near the fence at the India-Pakistan border at the outpost of Samba sector [EPA]

    As summer approaches, infiltration into Kashmir typically picks up. An Indian security official said between 250 and 300 fighters were estimated to be ready to cross over from Pakistan, citing intelligence reports.

    "This is the time when our [border] fence is the weakest," with damage caused by winter snow, said the official, who sought anonymity.

    On Monday, the Indian Army said in a statement it killed five Pakistan-backed rebels at the LoC during a firefight in heavy snow, with five of its special forces soldiers also killed.

    Kashmir has long been a flashpoint between the neighbours but tension was renewed after New Delhi withdrew the autonomy of the Himalayan region last August and split it into federally-administered territories.

    Both countries claim the region in full, but rule only parts, and often accuse each other of breaching a 2003 ceasefire pact by shelling and firing across the LoC and killing dozens every year.

    Pakistan denies giving material support to rebels in Kashmir but says it provides moral and diplomatic backing for the self-determination of Kashmiri people.

    SOURCE: News agencies