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Official: Border Skirmishes with India Kill 35 in Pakistani Kashmir

By Ayaz Gul August 20, 2019

A top official in Pakistan disclosed Tuesday that recent cross-border skirmishes with India have killed dozens of people and injured hundreds of others on the Pakistani side of the disputed Kashmir region.

The revelation came a day after U.S. President Donald Trump spoke to leaders of both nuclear-armed rival nations and urged them to reduce tensions, although he described the situation as "tough."

Pakistan also announced Tuesday it would take the Kashmir dispute with India to International Court of Justice. Foreign Minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi told local television channels the Pakistani government has taken the decision "after considering all legal aspects" of the case.

The military escalation stems from New Delhi's controversial scrapping of decades-old limited constitutional autonomy for its part of Kashmir earlier this month, splitting the region into two union territories.

Islamabad swiftly rejected and condemned the August 5 move as a breach of bilateral, as well as international, understandings blocking both countries from altering the status of Kashmir.

"Relentless firing is ongoing. Indians have used cluster munitions in these clashes. So far, nearly 35 people have died, hundreds are injured, houses, shops and crops destroyed while livestock also have been killed," said Masood Khan, the president of Pakistani Kashmir.

He did not explain while addressing a news conference in Islamabad whether the death toll was for civilians or included the military losses. Khan warned the intensifying shelling has developed into a serious crisis, and it could be an Indian ploy to launch a major offensive against his region.

The Pakistan army has so far confirmed the killing of four of its soldiers and several civilians in more than two weeks of fighting in Kashmir.

Army spokesman Major-General Asif Ghafoor said three more civilians were in fresh clashes Tuesday. He claimed Pakistani troops killed at lest six Indian soldiers in retaliatory fire. It is not possible to seek independent verification of claims made by either side about ongoing skirmishes.

The Indian action to cancel the special status for the country's only Muslim-majority state was accompanied by a wide-ranging curfew and communications blackout, cutting off millions of Kashmiris from the rest of the world. Indian media reports said nearly 4,000 political leaders, activists and civil society representatives also have also been arrested to deter violent reactions.

Indian authorities said Monday they have begun to ease the two-week security crackdown in parts of Kashmir, including the main city of Srinagar. Residents and independent observers, however, continue to express serious concerns over the humanitarian crisis stemming from the crackdown.

Trump said on Monday he discussed the situation and had "good conversations" with both Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi and his Pakistani counterpart, Imran Khan.

"Spoke to my two good friends, Prime Minister Modi of India, and Prime Minister Khan of Pakistan, regarding Trade, Strategic Partnerships and, most importantly, for India and Pakistan to work towards reducing tensions in Kashmir," Trump tweeted. "A tough situation, but good conversations!"

Indian media reported that during a 30-minute conversation with Trump, Modi raised the issue of "extreme rhetoric and incitement to anti-India violence" by Pakistani leaders. Later when the U.S. president spoke to Khan, Trump asked the Pakistani prime minister to "moderate rhetoric" with India, according to The Hindu newspaper.

India's Kashmir-related moves have prompted Khan to repeatedly describe the government of Prime Minister Modi as fascist and supremacist. Khan also compared the Modi government with Nazi Germany during World War II. He also has alleged Modi's actions pose a threat to both Pakistan and religious minorities in India.

Khan told Trump on Monday that India's security crackdown in Kashmir was aimed at covering up human rights abuses to make "demographic" changes aimed at converting Kashmir into a Muslim minority territory, according to Pakistani Foreign Qureshi.

Both India and Pakistan claim Kashmir in its entirety, and have fought two wars over the region, while skirmishes across the de facto Kashmir border, known as the Line of Control, have become an almost daily routine.

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