ISLAMABAD, PAKISTAN - Pakistan and rival India say fierce military clashes across their frontier in disputed Kashmir have killed at least 13 people and wounded many more on both sides, with each country accusing the other of initiating the fight.
The two nuclear-armed South Asian nations routinely trade fire across the cease-fire boundary, known as the Line of Control (LoC), which splits the Indian- and Pakistani-administered parts of the Himalayan region.
Officials and Kashmiri villagers reported that Friday's skirmishes, however, were among the worst and most widespread they had witnessed in recent months.
A late-night Pakistani military statement accused Indian forces of resorting to what it denounced as "unprovoked and indiscriminate" artillery and heavy mortar shelling against both army and civilian populations in various sectors along the LoC.
The statement confirmed the death of one soldier and four civilians, saying 12 civilians and five soldiers were wounded. The Pakistan army, it said, gave "a befitting reply" to Indian troops, inflicting "substantial losses" on them.
For their part, military officials in India alleged that Pakistan started the fighting, killing four Indian soldiers and four civilians while several people were wounded.
An Indian army statement claimed militants were trying to infiltrate the LoC from the Pakistani side before the clashes erupted.
"Suspicious movement was observed by Indian army alert troops at forward posts along LoC. … This was accompanied by unprovoked cease-fire violations by Pakistan in multiple sectors. Infiltration bid was foiled," it said.
Late Friday, Islamabad summoned the Indian chargé d'affaires to condemn and protest against the actions by New Delhi in violation of a 2003 mutual LoC cease-fire.
"These egregious violations of international law reflect consistent Indian attempts to escalate the situation along the LoC and are a threat to regional peace and security," said a Pakistan Foreign Ministry statement.
It went on to note that India had committed more than 2,700 cease-fire violations since the beginning of the year, killing 25 people and causing "serious injuries" to more than 200 civilians. The Pakistani statement did not provide details of military casualties during that period.
Tensions between archrivals India and Pakistan have in recent times escalated over Kashmir, leading to routine military clashes and almost tearing apart the LoC truce.
Both India and Pakistan claim Kashmir in its entirety. The dispute has sparked several wars and low-level conflicts between the rivals since both countries gained independence from Britain in 1947.
In August 2019, New Delhi revoked the decades-old constitutionally enshrined semiautonomous status of the two-thirds of Kashmir it administers, fueling mutual tensions and acrimony.
Islamabad rejected the move as a violation of U.N. Security Council resolutions on Kashmir, saying neither side is allowed to unilaterally alter the status of the internationally recognized disputed territory.
Pakistan also rejects Indian allegations its troops provide cover to militant infiltration to fuel violence in Kashmir, saying the charges are meant to distract world attention from alleged human rights abuses Indian forces are inflicting on Kashmiris.