At least 20 people have died in clashes between Indian and Chinese troops along the disputed Himalayan border running along the Ladakh area of Kashmir. It is the first fatal clash since 1975 and the most serious since 1967.
Fighting broke out on Monday evening when an Indian patrol came across Chinese forces on a narrow ridge. During the confrontation an Indian commanding officer was pushed and fell into the river gorge, sources told the Guardian. Hundreds of troops from both sides were called in and fought with rocks and clubs. Several fell to their deaths.
The Indian Army said there were casualties on both sides, and confirmed three of its soldiers were killed during the clashes, with another 17 later succumbing to injuries.
Tensions have been escalating since late April, when China sent thousands of troops into the disputed territory along the Line of Actual Control (LAC), bringing artillery and vehicles.
Analysts say the Chinese government, which has been more assertive in building infrastructure in the area, is anxious to frustrate any effort by India to upgrade its own military installations.
Their refusal to leave disputed areas, including the Galwan Valley inside Indian territory, has triggered shouting matches, stone-throwing and fistfights in key border areas. Last month, there was a massive brawl between patrols, but no deaths.
Earlier this month senior military leaders from both sides met and made a commitment to disengagement.
What is the history of the dispute?
India and China fought a war in 1962 over their contested border in the Himalayas. The war ended with a truce and the formation of a de facto boundary, known as the Line of Actual Control.
No official border has ever been negotiated, the region where the clashes occurred is hostile terrain, at high altitude and sparsely populated, running through the Ladakh region bordering Tibet, home to a Buddhist-majority population. It is a popular tourist destination.
What is the Line of Actual Control?
The LAC is a rough demarcation line separating Indian-controlled territory from Chinese-controlled territory. The exact location of sections of the line, particularly in the western Ladakh region, have remained in dispute. Efforts between the two countries to clarify the LAC have stalled in the past two decades, according to Indian media.
What do the two sides want?
Both countries have sought to establish their claims to territory, by heavily militarising the region. Both have built roads, airstrips, outpost stations, and other infrastructure, such as telephone lines. Troops conduct regular patrols along the disputed border. China claims more than 90,000sq km in the eastern Himalayas and another 38,000sq km in the west, both of which are disputed by India.
The conflict has enormous geopolitical consequences for the world. China and India are the two most populous nations on earth, and both are nuclear powers. They are led by governments run strongly along nationalist lines, and whose militaries are seen as markers of national status and pride.
Chinese state media has reported the PLA is conducting joint military exercises “aimed at the destruction of key hostile hubs in a high-elevation mountainous region”. The PLA Tibet Military Command conducted live fire drills with heavy artillery on Tuesday, with reports linking the PLA’s preparedness for high elevation combat to the clashes with India.
Elephants or Wild Boars: By Shreya | Updated: Monday, June 8, 2020, 13:20 [IST] New Delhi, June 08: The death of a starving, pregnant elephant in Palakkad allegedly consuming a pineapple stuffed with explosives caused outrage on social media. The jumbo went through unthinkable trauma, stood impassively in a river and died a slow death. Video grab Various theories have shrouded the ghastly death of the elephant. While people are blaming the farmer responsible for the incident, it is important to note that the elephant was an unintended target. Primary investigations into the death of pregnant elephant in Kerala has found that it may have accidentally consumed a cracker-stuffed fruit, the environment ministry noted. NGT takes cognisance of elephant death in Kerala, seeks action-taken report from panel India public places reopen even as Covid-19 infections surge by 9000 for 5 days | Oneindia News The government noted that many a times locals resort to an illegal act of planting explosive-filled fruits to repel wild boars from entering plantation farms. In a series of tweets, the ministry has said that one person has been arrested in the matter. “Primary investigations revealed, the elephant may have accidentally consumed in such fruit.” Ministry is in constant touch with Kerala Govt and has sent them detailed advisory for immediate arrest of culprits & stringent action against any erring official that led to elephant’s death,” the ministry said. “As of now, one person has been arrested & efforts are on to nab more individuals who may have participated in this illegal & utterly inhuman act. The @WCCBHQ has also been directed to act on this matter with utmost sense of urgency. #WildlifeProtection,” the ministry posted on its official Twitter handle. So now, it has come to the light that the elephant had strayed into a trap that was intended for wild boars. Wild boars are a chronic problem to farmers because they tend to destroy crops in their search for food. To avert them, farmers have come up with cruel methods like the explosive-laced traps that claimed the elephant’s life. It’s a common practice in most of the Indian states to ward-off the animals. But that does not make this practice less evil and it has to stop at any cost. The intended target is an elephant or a wild boar, it is an inhumane method of dealing with wildlife.
Elephants under private care are routinely abused and undergo immense stress.
In early April this year, a video was being circulated amongst animal rights activists in Karnataka: A mahout stating that since the lockdown, his 55-year-old captive elephant has not had anything to eat.
The elephant belonged to a temple in Mudhol district, and for the past 40 years, had been living off offerings of jaggery, sugarcane, fruits and grains provided by the people visiting the temple. Since the lockdown, the mahout had not been able to step out and the temple was running out of fodder. The video ends with the mahout appealing for help.
Ever since the lockdown, there have been several such stories that have been doing the rounds on social media, seeking donations to provide food for starving captive elephants.
The elephant owners of Amer Fort in Jaipur, Rajasthan, known for using at least a hundred elephants for tourist rides, also complained about the lack of income that disabled them from getting fodder for their elephants. Similarly, elephants held captive by individual owners in Kerala and religious institutions in Karnataka have been seeking help.
“It takes one pandemic to throw things out of gear,” said Suparna Ganguly of Wildlife Rescue and Rehabilitation Centre, an animal rights non-profit based in Bangalore, Karnataka. “It just goes on to show how precarious their situation is when they are in private custody.”
‘Owning’ an elephant
There are 2,675 captive elephants in India, according to the information received by Tamil Nadu-based animal welfare activist Antony Clement Rubin via a Right to Information response from the Ministry of Environment, Forest and Climate Change in November 2019 and available to Mongabay-India.
Of these, 1,821 are in private custody and the rest are under the care of the forest department of various states. Among the elephants in private custody, some are owned by individuals and others by institutions like temples and circuses.
The Indian Elephant is protected under Schedule one of the Wildlife Protection Act, 1972, which affords maximal protection. It is listed as “Endangered” in the Red List of Threatened Species of the International Union for Conservation of Nature.
Under Section 1(5) of the Wildlife Protection Act, a captive animal is “captured, or kept or bred in captivity”. Section 40 of the Act gives special status regarding possession, inheritance, or acquisition of the animal. “This exception was originally created for the elephants that were already in captivity at the time, to regularise their possession. But it is being used to capture more elephants and issue new ownership certificates,” said Alok Hisarwala, a Goa-based lawyer who manages the Elephant Rights Campaign for Federation of Indian Animal Protection Organisations.
Explaining it further, he said, “It’s like this. If I step into the forest and see a wild elephant and if I get caught trying to capture it, I have committed an offence. But if the next morning, I happen to walk to the Chief Wildlife Warden’s office, telling him that I have an elephant in my backyard and that he/she is listening to all my commands, I will get the ownership certificate. They won’t ask me how I acquired the elephant.”
Currently, there are 1,251 captive elephants with ownership certificates and 723 elephants whose ownership certificates are still under process. “These captive elephants are brought as baby calves from the Northeast to Rajasthan and trained for tourist rides,” said Abhishek Singh, an animal welfare activist based in Jaipur. “A [memorandum of understanding] was passed between the Forest Department and some of the non-profits in the area, about four to five years back that no more new elephants will be brought to the state,” he said. “But the rules continue to be flouted.”
Moreover, elephants are used for commercial purposes. Under the Performing Animals Registration Rules, 2001 – part of Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Act 1960 – using captive elephants for commercial purposes such as tourism is strictly prohibited unless specific permission is obtained by the Animal Welfare Board of India. There are several state-specific laws, as well.
Elephants under stress
In 2017, members of the Animal Welfare Board of India attempted to conduct health checks on the elephants in Jaipur. Out of the 102 elephants tested, at least ten showed symptoms of tuberculosis, a zoonotic disease. The report also revealed that elephants were suffering from blindness, had their tusks removed, and were under extreme psychological stress. However, no action was taken at the time.
“We tried to organise a health camp earlier this year, but that was also cancelled at the last minute,” said Singh. In fact, earlier in March, PETA wrote a letter to the chief minister of Rajasthan, urging him to stop the elephant rides because of the potential risk to tourists of contracting tuberculosis.
“The elephants are constantly abused, they are made to stay in concrete stalls, they have foot diseases, ankush [a sharp instrument used by mahouts] is used to control them, and they are constantly under stress,” said Singh.
In August 2019, a study assessing physiological stress in captive Asian elephants was published by scientists at CSIR- Centre for Cellular and Molecular Biology, Hyderabad. The study checked the amount of stress hormones called glucocorticoids in 870 dung samples from 37 captive elephants. The samples were collected from elephants that were engaged in different activities – from Mysore zoo, Mysore Dussehra temporary elephant camp, Mudumalai Tiger reserve elephant camp, and Bandhavgarh Tiger reserve elephant camp.
The elephants from the Mysore Dussehra camp, which were made to perform at religious ceremonies had a higher amount of stress hormones than others. The study explained that heightened levels of stress can cause infertility, hyperglycemia, suppression of immune response, imperfect wound healing, and neuronal cell death.
“Elephants are social animals, they need other elephants around them, and when they are kept isolated environments such as temples, it automatically elevates their stress hormones,” said Sreedhar Vijayakrishnan, a researcher on elephant behavior at National Institute of Advanced Studies, Bangalore.
“In females, this disrupts their reproductive cycle,” he said. Male elephants go into musth at around 20-21 years of age. Their testosterone level goes up and their raging behavior increases. “This means they travel a larger distance than normal, in search of a mate. When you keep them in captivity in one place, it automatically increases their stress level,” he said.
“Some of the manifestations of stress include stereotypic behaviour – rocking, swaying, head-bobbing, and other repetitive movements,” said Dr Shantanu Kalambi, wildlife veterinarian and consultant at Wildlife Rescue and Rehabilitation Centre, based in Bangalore. “This sometimes causes them to walk in an awkward manner, leading to arthritis and spondylosis.”
Further explaining the physiological problems captive elephants go through, feet are the “biggest issue” for them, he said. “Thanks to constantly standing or walking on unsuitable hard surfaces, they have bad feet, abscess in the foot and hips, broken nails, and develop arthritis over time,” he added.
Other issues they face include blindness and cataract, “since they are out in the sun all the time.” If they had their own will, they would find shade, he said.
Elephants in captivity are often not allowed to have mud baths. “Mud acts like sunscreen for them, and keeps away ectoparasites,” said Kalambi. As a result, they develop skin problems.
“Increasing cases of conflict in captivity, manifested in the form of property damages and human casualties, is another issue in captive conditions,” said Vijayakrishnan. Several times a year, local papers report headlines such as “Elephant runs amok during temple festival in Kerala” or “Elephant crushes mahout to death”. “This is an area that is often overlooked, and is also a result of stress and inadequate rest for the elephant,” he said.
Response to pandemic
Conservationists and activists say that an average middle-aged healthy elephant needs 100-150 kg of food per day, consisting of grass, foliage, hay, banana stock, ragi, rice, gingelly oil, vegetables, pulses and fruits, along with 5,000 gallons of water. Captive elephants are heavily dependent on human intervention for their well-being, especially their mahouts, who play an active role in their positive reinforcement. The ones that are medically unfit require regular veterinary assistance. On average, the bare minimum cost for providing nutrition, medical needs and logistic support for one captive elephant amounts to approximately Rs one lakh per month.
In response to the current Covid-19 crisis, Singh explained that each elephant handler in Jaipur was given Rs 600 per day for the food and upkeep of the elephant, by the Rajasthan forest department. “This is too less an amount,” said Singh. “One needs at least Rs 2,000-Rs 3,000 per day for an elephant.”
In Kerala, the state government released Rs five crore for animal welfare, which includes the 479 privately-owned captive elephants in the state. In Karnataka, the high court passed an order on April 9, asking the state’s forest department to ensure the upkeep of the state’s privately-owned elephants.
In Tamil Nadu, activist Antony Rubin sent a letter to the forest department, requesting them to allocate appropriate funds, food and veterinary attention to the state’s captive elephants, as well as to the mahouts. The confidential letter is available with Mongabay-India.
Need of the hour
While a long term policy change is the need of the hour, experts offer a variety of views for handling the gentle giants in captivity. The CSIR-Centre for Cellular and Molecular Biology study on captive elephant stress recommends “minimising participation in religious activities, processions” and creating opportunities “for elephants to interact with other elephants in the facility.”
“We need an urgent policy change to completely ban the ownership of elephants in private hands,” said Ganguly. “Whether it is owned by an individual or an institution, this needs to be stopped by law.”
She further added, “There are many captive elephants that are currently in good condition, and many in a bad condition. There needs to be formed a neutral committee, that consists of experts in the field, that can make a detailed report on the kind of housing and facility these elephants need.
For many residents, the sight is something which they have never witnessed in their entire lives…
For the first time in 30 years, India’s snow-covered Dhauladhar mountain range has become visible to locals as a result of plunging pollution levels resulting from measures taken to check the spread of the novel coronavirus.
For many residents, the sight of the Dhauladhar Range—which translates to “White Range” and forms part of the Himalayas—is something which they have never witnessed in their entire lives, reportsSBS.
Many have been eager to share their feelings about it on social media, including former Indian cricket player Harbhajan Singh, who wrote:
“Never seen Dhauladar range from my home rooftop in Jalandhar. Never could imagine that’s possible. A clear indication of the impact the pollution has done by us to mother earth.”
Never seen Dhauladar range from my home rooftop in Jalandhar..never could imagine that’s possible..clear indication of the impact the pollution has done by us to Mother Earth .. this is the view
While anti-pollution activist Sant Balbir Singh Seeechewal told SBS:
“We can see the snow-covered mountains clearly from our roofs. And not just that, stars are visible at night. I have never seen anything like this in recent times.”
India, a country with upwards of 1.3 billion residents, has been placed under a strict nationwide lockdown from March 22 until at least April 14. The draconian move limits the movement of the entire population, and has been criticized by rights groups as well as figures from private industry who claim that the measure is arbitrary and damages the country and its economy.
On Tuesday, the Economic Timespublished an opinion piece by auto company executive Rajiv Bajaj arguing that “virtually no country has imposed such a sweeping lockdown as India has; I continue to believe this makes India weak rather than stronger in combating the epidemic.”
However, the lockdown—which shut down factories, marketplaces, small shops, places of worship, most public transportation and construction projects—has also provided a temporary respite from the suffocating pollution levels India is known for. No less than 21 of the world’s 30 most polluted cities are in the South Asian giant.
From my home town in Punjab…. we had never seen mountains
This is from Jalandhar. Dhauladar Range approx 200-250km
“Not just normal traffic is off the roads, but most industry is also shut down. This has helped bring the pollution level to unbelievably low levels.”
According to CNN, government data has shown that India’s capital New Delhi has seen a 71 percent plunge of the harmful microscopic particulate matter known as PM 2.5. The particulate matter, which lodges deep into the lungs and passes into vital organs and the bloodstream, causes a number of serious risks to people’s health.
In the meantime, nitrogen dioxide spewed into the air by motor traffic and power plants has also fallen by 71 percent from 52 per cubic meter to 15 in the same period.
Similar drops in air pollutants have been registered in major cities like Bangalore, Chennai, Kolkata, and Mumbai.
Shailen Pratap शैलेन्द्र @shailen_pratap
Today’s best news should be that Dhauladar Range,Himachal Pradesh, Himalayas have started to be visible from Jalandhar ( approximately 300 Kms). This has never happened in our lifetime. Loving Views……
From pollution levels reducing drastically to now marine life being able to breathe in peace, it seems like the coronavirus lockdown is seriously helping nature recoup.
Olive Ridley sea turtles have come ashore for mass nesting at the six-kilometre-long Rushikulya beach of Odisha’s Ganjam district in the last five days and it’s owing to the coronavirus lockdown.
These rare sea turtles are renowned for their mass nesting and come to Indian shores and Odisha’s coast every nesting season; the areas are their largest nesting site in the region. According to the Odisha Wildlife Organisation ( OWO), nearly 50 per cent of the world population of these rare turtles come to Odisha’s coast for nesting.
On March 22 at around 2 am, 2,000 female Olive Ridleys started coming out of the sea to the beach, Berhampur Divisional Forest Officer (DFO), Amlan Nayak, told The Hindu.
Ankit Kumar, IFS@AnkitKumar_IFS
ARRIBADA ~Spanish Word – means ‘Arrival’
Refers to mass-nesting event when 1000s of Turtles come ashore at the same time to lay eggs on the same beach.
Interestingly, females return to the very same beach from where they first hatched, to lay their eggs.
Olive Ridley Turtle
NEW DELHI: Rumours claiming spread of coronavirus through chickens, circulated widely through social media platforms such as, WhatsApp, has severely impacted sale of chickens in the country.
Chicken sales have come odwn by 50 percent, said an official from Agribusiness company Godrej Agrovet Limited.
Godrej Agrovet Managing Director B S Yadav said that sales have fallen to 40 million birds from 75 million in just four weeks.
Farmers have also been hurt as they are unable to recover costs earning Rs 30-Rs 35 per bird.
According to some reports, farmers have already started cutting down on production which might cost price hike in coming months.
It is important to note that bird flu is also a huge concern for many people.
In January this year, as many as 900 fowls were culled after the avian influenza virus was detected in a dead bird in Bangalore. “A chicken was found dead on December 29 at a chicken shop in (suburban) Dasarahalli area and it was confirmed after lab tests that the bird was infected with the H5N1 avian influenza virus,” Bruhat Bengaluru Mahagara Palike (BBMP) Joint Commissioner S. garaju told IANS.
China has reported a deadly H5N1 bird flu outbreak among chickens in Hunan province, which lies on the southern border of Hubei, the epicenter of the rapidly spreading coronavirus that has killed 304 people.
More than 100,000 poultry have been culled in 10 provinces and cities of Vietnam where A/H5N6 and A/H5N1 bird flu broke out, Vietnam News Agency cited the country’s Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development.
The Vietnamese Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development said that between early January and February 24, Vietnam had 34 bird flu outbreaks with over 100,000 poultry culled, among which 29 were A/H5N6 and the rest five were A/H5N1 in 10 provinces and cities of Hanoi, Bac Ninh, Thanh Hoa, Nghe An, Tra Vinh, Thai Binh, Binh Duong, Ninh Binh, Hai Phong, and Quang Ninh.
H5N1 virus-infected birds spread the virus through their saliva, mucus and faeces. Although the virus does not usually infect people, it can cause fever, diarrhoea, respiratory illnesses in some affected people.
In a shocking episode, more than 1,000 migratory birds were found dead under mysterious circumstances at Rajasthan’s Sambhar Salt Lake on Monday, November 11.
Located near Phulera in Jaipur, Sambhar Lake witnesses a vast number of winged visitors during the winter season. Tourists and ornithologists from across the world regularly visit the region as it plays host to various migratory species of birds including the Northern Shoveler, Green Bee-Eater, Cinnamon Teal coming from Siberia, north Asia and other places. As the winter season progresses, the forest department is running against time to identify and address the cause of such mass deaths.
While the carcasses were immediately buried, officials have sent samples of the birds’ visceral remains to the forensic science laboratory in Bhopal. Experts say no signs of bird flu were observed till now, and the likely contamination of water could be the trigger. Further examination of birds’ internal organs could help pinpoint the cause of death.
The death of these birds came to fore when a few ornithologists went to Sambhar Lake for photography on Sunday and were taken aback to see the dead birds across the lake. Veterinarians suspect water contamination or algae poisoning to be the primary reason behind the deaths, reports The Times of India.
While officials claim that the death toll is 1,500, the locals claim that the number of dead birds could be around 5,000. The dead bodies were found around a section of the Sambhar Salt Lake named Ratan Talab. Different species of waders and ducks, including the likes of pallas’ gull, ruddy shelduck, ruddy turnstone, gull-billed tern, redshanks, black-winged stilts, common coots, plovers, avocets, shovelers and sandpipers, were among the waterbirds whose dead bodies were found at the lake.
The officials buried the bird carcasses in a ditch. While a total of 669 dead birds were buried, many others were left unattended as it was difficult for the forest department personnel to go into the slippery muddy areas to retrieve their carcasses.
The incident of mysterious bird deaths is a second in Rajasthan within a week. Thirty-seven Demoiselle cranes were found dead in Vijay Sagar Lake in the Alwar district of Rajasthan on last Thursday. However, no link has been found in the two mass-death incidents, as the cranes supposedly died after eating poisoned grain. Officials have sent their viscera too for investigation.
The Sambhar Salt Lake is India’s largest inland saltwater lake. Located in Jaipur district of Rajasthan, it spreads across 190 to 230 square kilometres.
The lake has always attracted a host of migratory birds that travel tens of thousands of kilometres, typically to escape harsh winter conditions. However, the developmental activities around Sambhar in recent years, including the extension of salt pan operations, new settlements and changes in the weather, have reportedly decreased the number of birds flocking to the lake.
India, long associated with the spread of superbug ‘New Delhi metallo-beta lactamase-1’ and extensively drug-resistant tuberculosis, has now been identified as one of the global hotspots of rising antibiotic resistance among animals as well.
Other hotspots include China, Pakistan, Vietnam, Turkey, Brazil and South Africa, says a review study jointly done by Princeton University and Delhi-based Center for Disease Dynamics, Economics & Policy and published in Science journal Thursday night.
Antibiotics are added to animal feed to make them healthier. The study said that increasing demand for animal protein in lower middleincome countries had led to increased production (rearing of food-animals) using antibiotics liberally.
In May, a local study from Mumbai published in ‘Acta Scientific Microbiology’ journal showed resistance in chicken liver meat and eggs collected from poultry shops across 12 locations in the city. That study tested the samples for bacteria salmonella that was resistant to widely used antibiotics such as amoxicillin, azithromycin, ciprofloxacin, ceftriaxone, chloramphenicol, erythromycin, gentamicin, levofloxacin, nitrofurantoin and tetracycline.
Now, the CDDEP study has said that antibiotic resistance is seen in several food-animals across the globe. “It is of particular concern that it is rising in low- and middle-income countries because this is where meat consumption is growing the fastest while access to veterinary antimicrobials remains largely unregulated,” said the study, adding that animals nowadays consume three times as many antibiotics as humans.
The study’s main author, CDDEP’s Ramanan Laxminarayan, said: “The study found the proportion of antimicrobial compounds in food animals that showed resistance higher than 50 % increased overall between 2000 and 2018.”
The trend is dangerous because increase in antibiotic-resistant infections among animals will finally affect humans as well.
Updated Jun 20, 2019 | 18:19 IST | Mirror Now Digital
Pani spread across villages after the locals saw the dead leopard and informed authorities. Forest department officials reached the spot after getting reports of the leopard hanging from high-tension wires.
The feline’s face was said to be badly burnt. | Photo Credit: ANI
Gurugram: A leopard was found dead in a tree alongside an electric pole in Mandawar village in Sohna near Gurugram. The big cat was found hanging on the electric pole, presumably electrocuted while he was hunting, on Thursday morning.
Panic spread across villages after the locals saw the dead leopard and informed concerned authorities. Forest department officials reached the spot after getting reports of the leopard hanging from high-tension wires.
“It is a clear case of electrocution. There is no foul play. It seems the feline came in contact with the wires while chasing prey, most probably a monkey. The face of the leopard is completely burnt,” a report in The Hindu quoted Divisional Forest Officer Shyam Sunder as saying.
The big cat’s face was said to have been badly burnt. The body of the leopard, said to be around that of a two-year-old animal, was removed from the pole by forest officials and sent for post-mortem.
In another such incident of a wild animal dying inside human habitat areas, a wild cat was beaten to death by villagers in Mandawar in 2016.
Leopards often wander into nearby villages dotting the Aravali mountain area, often in search of food and water. Many cases of leopard deaths through electrocution have been reported in the past few years.
According to a report in The Hindu, a big cat died in Hyderabad in Telangana in 2017 when it climbed an electric pole and got stuck in the wires. As forests shrink due to encroachments and increasing human habitation, many felines have been killed in accidents on roads.
According to a report in News18, around half-a-dozen deaths of leopards have been reported from the Aravali Hills. In 2014, four leopards were found dead under mysterious condition near the Manesar Golf Course. A leopard died in an accident near Sahrawan village near Manesar in 2014.
The funeral of a man killed when Indian soldiers fired mortar shells into the Pakistani-controlled part of Kashmir. At least two Pakistani soldiers and two civilians were killed in renewed fighting across the disputed border.CreditAmiruddin Mughal/EPA, via Shutterstock
— Intense shelling erupted along the disputed border between India and Pakistan on Saturday, killing several civilians and making it clear that hostilities between the two nuclear-armed nations were hardly over — only a day after Pakistan handed over a captured Indian fighter pilot in what it called a “good-will gesture.”
At least five civilians and two soldiers were killed, according to officials on both sides.
At the same time, independent security analysts continue to questionIndia’s claims this past week that it had killed “a very large number” of terrorists at a major training camp in a cross-border airstrike. The bold strike set off an enormous mobilization of Indian and Pakistani forces and a cycle of military attacks, bringing South Asia to red alert.
Michael Sheldon, a researcher at the Atlantic Council, a think tank in Washington, said on Saturday that after studying satellite imagery of the area in Pakistan that India had bombed, he could see “no evidence any buildings were hit.” He added, “It appears to me they didn’t hit their targets.”
Instead, he said, all publicly available evidence and accounts from witnesses on the ground indicated that the Indian bombs had landed in an unpopulated forest and had taken out some pine trees. He set out his argument in an online article titled “Surgical Strike in Pakistan a Botched Operation?”
The administration of India’s prime minister, Narendra Modi, who faces an election in a few months, had presented the airstrike as a robust response against a terrorist group, Jaish-e-Mohammed, that claimed responsibility for a devastating suicide bombing in February that killed more than 40 Indian troops.
Why Do India and Pakistan Keep Fighting Over Kashmir?
A simple guide to the roots of the conflict and what could happen next.
The troops were part of a large convoy crossing Kashmir, a highly militarized mountainous territory claimed by both India and Pakistan and the source of violent tensions between the two countries for years. Indian officials have declined to offer any photographs, witness accounts or other tangible evidence that their airstrike on Tuesday killed a large number of terrorists.
But they remain adamant that the Pakistani government has allowed anti-India militant groups to operate in Pakistan, which officials there deny. Indian officials have said that the target of their airstrike was a hilltop training center run by Jaish-e-Mohammed near the town of Balakot in northern Pakistan.
They told reporters that no structures were damaged during the Indian airstrike and that the only person hurt was a 62-year-old man who suffered a small cut above his eye. The villagers led reporters to several large holes in the ground in the forest, where they said the bombs fell.
Western intelligence officials say that militant groups in Pakistan still provide material support and expertise, such as bomb-making skills, to insurgents fighting Indian rule in the Indian-controlled parts of Kashmir.
On Wednesday, Pakistan mobilized its air force and shot down an Indian fighter jet above Kashmir, capturing the pilot. On Friday, Pakistan released the pilot, Wing Cmdr. Abhinandan Varthaman, calling it a gesture to ease tensions.
The prospect of a major conflict erupting between India and Pakistan, which was a real fear just a few days ago, may have receded somewhat. But this region remains jittery. On Saturday, United Airlines rerouted some of its flights from India, citing concerns about the airspace.
Residents said the artillery battle that raged on Saturday was much heavier than usual, with both sides pounding each other’s positions for hours.
“The shells are landing everywhere,” said Najeeb Ahmad, a primary-school teacher who lives on the Indian side of the disputed border, called the Line of Control.
The funeral in Srinagar, Kashmir, on Saturday, of two Indian paramilitary troops killed in a gunfight.CreditTauseef Mustafa/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images
Along the border, artillery exchanges break out all the time and large rounds continually sail over the troops dug in on each side and crash into nearby villages, maiming and killing civilians.
Every night, villagers crawl into bunkers and huddle together, waiting for the intense pounding to stop. Sometimes, there is no place to hide. The people who live along the border say their continued existence is now purely up to the soldiers’ mood.
Mr. Ahmad, the teacher, said an artillery shell from the Pakistani side had smashed into a house where a woman was living with her two children. “They were sleeping in the kitchen,” he said. “All of them died.”
Both India and Pakistan accused the other of firing first.
Pakistani military officials said on Saturday that they had lost two soldiers, and that two civilians in the part of Kashmir controlled by Pakistan were killed by Indian shelling. A Pakistani military statement said its troops then gave “a befitting response.”
Pakistan has also threatened to lodge a formal complaint against India at the United Nations, accusing it of “eco-terrorism” over the bombs that damaged several pine trees.
A peacemaking plea urging both sides to quit fighting was published as a letter in one of India’s leading newspapers and signed by more than 600 scholars, lawyers, scientists, writers and actors.
“Even a limited confrontation would resolve nothing,” the letter said. “Unfortunately, the climate of jingoism that tends to develop around this sort of situation is obscuring these simple truths.”
Jeffrey Gettleman and Hari Kumar reported from New Delhi, and Sameer Yasir from Baramulla, Kashmir. Salman Masood contributed from Islamabad, Pakistan.