India-Pak continue to exchange fire; Abhinandan’s debriefing starts

New Delhi: Hours after Pakistan returned Indian pilot Abhinandan as a ‘gesture of peace’, the warring neighbours exchanged fierce artillery barrages yet again today taking the lives of innocent civilians on both sides along the Line of Control.

The victims include a mother, her 5-year-old son and 9-month old daughter. Reports say that they were were killed overnight after a shell fired by Pakistani soldiers hit a home near the Line of Control (Loc) that divides the bitter nuclear rivals in the Poonch district of Kashmir region. The victims have been identified as Rubana Kosar, 24, and her five-year-old son Fazan and nine-month-old daughter Shabnam.

The Indian military retaliated and reports from Pakistan side claim that the exchanges have killed a boy and wounded three others. A Pakistani government official Umar Azam has reportedly said that Indian troops with heavy weapons ‘indiscriminately targeted border villagers’.

Defence sources say that Pakistani forces first targeted Indian civilian areas with heavy guns including the Howitzer 105 mm and mortar bombs, to which the Indian forces retaliated effectively. Pakistani shells hit several houses in Salotri village near the Line of Control. Intermittent firing has been going on since the last eight days along these areas.

The district authorities have asked schools within five kilometres along the Line of Control, in Poonch and Rajouri, to close down temporarily and ordered villagers to stay indoors. In the last one week, there have been as many as 60 ceasefire violations in the forward areas of Poonch, Rajouri, Jammu and Baramulla districts, according to sources.

Double game

A day after admitting Masood Azhar’s presence in his country, Pakistan Foreign Minister Shah Mahmood Qureshi is now denying Jaish-e-Mohammed’s role in the Pulwama terror attack that killed more than 40 Indian CRPF personnel in Jammu and Kashmir on 14 February.

It was only a day before that the Pakistan’s Foreign Minister confirmed that Jaish-e-Mohammed (JeM) chief Masood Azhar is in the country. He said Pakistan is ready to take action against Azhar “if they (India) have solid, inalienable evidence that is acceptable to courts of Pakistan, share it with us so that we can convince the people and we can convince the independent judiciary of Pakistan.”

However, Qureshi in an interview today said ‘people’ who contacted JeM over its responsibility in the Pulwama attack have said that they had no part in it. “There is confusion on that… (JeM) leadership was contacted and they said no,” said the minister. When asked who contacted JeM leadership, Quareshi simply said, “There are people who are known to them.”

It is to be noted that India has already given a dossier with evidences and proofs regarding JeM’s involvement in the attack to Pakistan. Moreover,the terrorist group Jaish-e-Mohammed themselves claimed responsibility for the attack and released a video of suicide bomber Adil Ahmad Dar.

‘Abhinandan’ has a new meaning: PM Modi

The word ‘Abhinandan’ used to mean welcome, but its meaning would change now, Prime Minister Narendra Modi said today.

The world takes note of what India does and the nation has the power to ‘change dictionary meanings’, Modi said at a housing ministry event here. His remarks came a day after IAF Wing Commander Abhinandan Varthaman was handed over to India by Pakistan after being in captivity for nearly three days.

What’s next for Abhi?

With Indian braveheart Abhinandan back safe on home soil and eager to take to the skies again, there are few protocols to be followed first.

At the time this was being written, Abhinandan would have been subjected to a series of medical and psych tests, which will help ascertain his mental and physical health, according to protocol. He will also undergo a debriefing with his superiors to understand what exactly happened during the 76 hours when he was behind enemy lines.

Confirming this, Air Marshall R G K Kapoor said, “He is surely a brave man. He fought Pakistani F-16 fighter jets with MiG-21 which is ages old and was built in the 1970s. India respects him for his bravery. But once our man is caught in enemy territory and taken in their custody, no matter what, the person has to undergo a thorough interrogation on returning.”

NT Bureau