SRINAGAR: The Jammu and Kashmir government has put health institutions along the border areas of the state on high alert after the armies of India and Pakistan resorted to heavy firing and mortar shelling at each other’s posts and civilian areas, resulting in over dozen casualties, including two minors, since last week.

(The Citizen Bureau Adds from New Delhi: Meanwhile both India and Pakistan went through the usual motions of summoning each others envoys in their respective capitals and registering protests against ceasefire violations by the ‘other’ side. Sources said that the situation had never been worse, and modicum of restraint had virtually been discarded)

Tensions are on the rise along the Line of Control and International Border in Rajouri, Poonch, Samba, Jammu and Uri areas of Jammu and Kashmir with six civilian casualties and at least eight forces personnel on either side of the divide getting killed due to heightened tensions. Authorities have shut schools located within a radius of five km radius from the border to prevent untoward incidents.

"All Health Institutions (in areas along IB and LoC) have been put on high alert. Orthopaedicians, Surgeons, Anesthetists have been directed to remain available 24×7. So far 21 persons have been injured and four persons died including a BSF personnel who attained martyrdom. Four additional doctors have been deputed from GMC-Jammu and 21 Ambulances have been kept in Border Health Centres to meet any emergency,” J&K's health minister Bali Bhagat said in a statement.

A civil society grouping comprising academicians, writers, journalist, doctors and business leaders yesterday evening issued a statement, squarely blaming the Army chief Bipin Rawat for fresh escalation along the border areas. General Rawat last week said the Indian Army will not hesitate in “calling the nuclear bluff” of Pakistan if it were asked to carry out strikes across the border.

“The recent reckless statement made by the Indian Army Chief where, inter alia, he said, “We will call the (nuclear) bluff of Pakistan. If we will have to really confront the Pakistanis, and a task is given to us, we are not going to say we cannot cross the border because they have nuclear weapons. We will have to call their nuclear bluff,” the statement says.

“We have seen in the past that these irresponsible statements lead to the immediate escalation of violence at the Line of Control (LOC) and accusations and counter-accusations. The same happened this time as well.”

The civil society underlined that any escalation between the two countries takes a toll primarily on the people of Jammu and Kashmir which is “witness to and victim of Indo-Pak wars and unabated militarized violence for last many decades. Because of their experiences of suffering, the people of Jammu and Kashmir are very conscious that these irresponsible statements can escalate into a full-blown war between the two nuclear powers and lead to terrible brutalization, primarily of the people of Jammu and Kashmir,” they said.

On Thursday, a BSF soldier and three civilians were killed and at least five civilians injured in firing by both sides across the divide. While a BSF soldier and a minor girl were killed in RS Pura and Arnia sectors of Jammu, Pakistan said two women were killed in "unprovoked" Indian fire and five civilians, including three women, were injured.

Yesterday, fresh exchange of heavy fire took place between the armies of two countries in R S Pura and Ramgarh sectors along the IB and LoC in Sunderbani area of Rajouri district. “Pakistan Army initiated unprovoked and indiscriminate firing of small arms, automatics and mortars from 1330 hours in Sunderbani sector along the Line of Control (LoC),” said an army official. “Indian Army retaliated strongly and effectively,” he said.

The army official said during the exchange of fire, Lance Naik Sam Abraham was grievously injured and succumbed to his injuries. “Pakistan Rangers violated ceasefire by resorting to indiscriminate firing at Indian positions in several sector of the international border in Jammu and Samba districts,” the official said.

"Pakistan initiated heavy fire from RS Pura to Basanter river at about 0640-45 hrs," a Border Security Force spokesperson said, adding that three civilians were killed in the firing. The deceased were all residents of Suchetgarh in RS Pura. A head constable Jagpal Singh of A Coy 173 Bn was wounded in Samba sector. He was shifted to District Hospital Samba for treatment where doctors declared him dead on arrival.

This is the third exchange of fire between the two countries in this sector during past three days. Earlier, on Monday, seven Pakistani soldiers were killed in firing by the Indian Army after an alleged ceasefire violation where an infiltration bid was also foiled with the killing of five suspected militants of Pakistan-based Jaish-e-Mohammad, Army said. The action came on the day when General Rawat warned the Army may escalate its offensive against the neighboring country to stop its “anti-India activities” in J&K.

(File Photograph)