Pakistan’s outgoing military chief sends warning to India
SRINAGAR: Separatists fighting against Indian rule in Kashmir stormed an Indian military base Tuesday, triggering a fierce gunbattle that left seven soldiers and a militant dead, officials said.
At the same time in another part of Kashmir, Indian forces came across three suspected militants who had allegedly crossed the border from Pakistan into India, touching off another exchange of fire in which all three were killed, paramilitary officials said.
The renewed violence followed a five-day lull in fighting between Indian and Pakistani troops, who have been exchanging heavy mortar and artillery fire for months across the de facto border that divides Kashmir between the two nations.
India has accused Pakistan of helping anti-India militants stage deadly attacks on its military compounds — an allegation Pakistan denies.
Early Tuesday, up to four militants disguised in police uniforms opened fire on the military camp in Nagrota, a town on the main highway connecting Kashmir’s two main cities of Srinagar and Jammu, according to senior police officer K. Rajendra.
The militants then stormed the base and made their way to an area of the compound storing artillery, lobbing grenades and drawing troops into exchanging fire, said another police officer, S.P. Vaid.
7 Indian soldiers, including two officers, and one militant were killed in the fighting, a police officer said on condition of anonymity because of department policy. The officer said at least three other soldiers were wounded in the attack.
With the militants hiding within the compound, the gunbattle was still raging inside.
Army officials described the militants as “fidayeen,” a term for militants ready to sacrifice their lives for a cause.
No other details were immediately available. Authorities closed the Srinagar-Jammu highway and ordered nearby schools to close as the fighting raged in Nagrota.
The attack was the most audacious on an Indian military base since a Sept. 18 assault on an army base in the town of Uri.
That attack left 19 Indian soldiers and four suspected militants dead, and escalated tensions between nuclear-armed India and Pakistan.
India accused Pakistan of helping those militants with weapons, training and logistics, and said it sent troops across the border to launch “surgical strikes” against militants in the Pakistancontrolled part of Kashmir.
Meanwhile, Pakistan’s outgoing army chief issued a stern warning to India over violence in Kashmir on Tuesday as he handed over command, saying patience should not be mistaken for weakness.
“I want to make it clear to India, that taking our policy of patience (in Kashmir) as a sign of any kind of weakness will prove to be dangerous to it,” said Gen. Raheel Sharif, who handed over the reins to Gen. Qamar Javed Bajwa at a ceremony full of military pomp.
“Unfortunately in recent months, the rising state terrorism in Kashmir and India’s aggressive steps have put regional peace at risk,” added Sharif, who many viewed as the most powerful man in Pakistan in his role as army chief.
In his first comments after assuming charge of the army, Gen. Bajwa signaled that the ongoing tensions with India along their frontier will ease soon.
“The situation at the Line of Control will hopefully improve soon,” he told reporters after the change of command ceremony.
Bajwa was fourth in seniority on a list of five army generals sent to Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif, and had been little discussed until picked him. According to the constitution, the prime minister can pick any officer from the list forwarded to him by the Defense Ministry.
The change in command took place when Gen. Sharif, publicly handed over his “Malacca stick” to his successor at a ceremony that was witnessed by civilian and military leaders, as well as diplomats.
The Malacca baton, which is made of bamboo produced in Singapore, is part of the Pakistan Army uniform.
The change in command has taken place this way starting in the British colonial days. Pakistan became independent in 1947 when Britain gave independence to Pakistan and India, although the military has ruled this Islamic nation for nearly half of the time since then.
An Indian soldier stands guard during a gunbattle with armed militants at an army base at Nagrota on Tuesday. (AFP)