Life normal in Pakistani Kashmir, but tense on Indian side

Life seems quite normal in the villages along the Pakistani side of Kashmir. But on the Indian side, villagers are spending sleepless nights in temporary shelters amid soaring tensions between the two nuclear-armed rivals.

On the Pakistani side, markets and schools were open, shepherds escorted their goats and cows to graze, and children were seen visiting shops to buy candies during a visit Saturday by dozens of media members to the border village of Bagsar, some 166 kilometers (103 miles) northeast of Islamabad.

The two neighbors' contentious frontier includes a rugged 740-kilometer (460-mile) mountainous stretch called the Line of Control, which is heavily guarded by both sides.

Since 2003, a cease-fire has largely held despite regular small-scale skirmishes. Each side routinely blames the other for starting any violence and insists they are only retaliating.

That was the case Saturday as Pakistani military officials took pains to refute the Indian version of the latest Kashmir conflict. The Indian army claims they carried out a 'surgical strike' on Sept. 29 near the village and destroyed a "terrorist launching pad" used by Kashmir-based militants.

Pakistani military spokesman Maj. Gen. Asim Salim Bajwa told visiting journalists that the Indian claim was a lie. He said Indian troops opened fire unprovoked with small arms and mortars after 2 a.m. in five separate spots along the border. Two Pakistani soldiers were killed in the barrages that continued until 7 a.m. and stopped only when the Pakistani army began retaliating, he said.

"That was simply the cease-fire violation on the LoC which was effectively and strongly punished," Bajwa said.

The Indian attack came about 10 days after a deadly assault on an Indian base in Kashmir. On Sept. 18, suspected rebels using guns and grenades sneaked into a base in Indian-controlled Kashmir and killed at least 17 soldiers.

On the Indian side, civilian officials said the frontier was largely calm but they were still not taking chances. Thousands of civilians slept in temporary shelters for the second night.

"Every year we go through these hardships. There seems to be no end to it in sight," said Mohan Lal, a villager in a shelter in the village of Khour.


Associated Press writer Aijaz Husain in Srinagar, India contributed to this report.