At least five people were killed near the India-Pakistan border in the northern Indian state of Jammu and Kashmir on Monday as intensified clashes in the region continued unabated, according to media reports. While the Pakistani army reportedly claimed that four civilians were killed in “unprovoked firing” near the border town of Sialkot, India said that one of its soldiers near the border had been killed.
“A total of four civilians were martyred this evening due to Indian BSF (Border Security Force) shelling on civilian population … Pakistan Rangers are effectively responding to India’s unprovoked firing,” the Pakistani military reportedly said, in a statement released Monday.
However, India denied the allegations, claiming that their forces had killed four Pakistanis planning an attack on Indian soil, according to media reports. “Pakistani rangers fired rocket-propelled grenades in villages near the border and our men have responded,” a senior official of the BSF told Reuters.
The violence between the two countries comes days before U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry is scheduled to attend a summit in the western Indian state of Gujarat. U.S. President Barack Obama is also slated to visit India later in the month.
The hostile exchanges have spiked since news emerged late last week of a New Year's Eve incident when India's coast guard reported that it had intercepted a boat -- suspected to have originated in Pakistan and headed for Indian shores with explosives -- off India's west coast, and India's defense minister suggested the alleged intrusion may be linked to terrorist activities.
Indian officials also claimed that over 10,000 civilians living near the border have so far fled the violence, which intensified in August last year after the cancellation of planned bilateral talks between the two countries. Both sides have consistently accused the other of initiating the clashes along the heavily militarized Line of Control -- a ceasefire line between the two nuclear-armed neighbors.
Meanwhile, the Indian government on Monday reacted strongly to media reports claiming that the U.S. government had signed off a certification that would allow Obama to disburse an additional $530 million in additional aid to Pakistan.
In a statement released Monday, Syed Akbaruddin, a spokesperson for India’s foreign ministry, said that the Pakistani government had not shown a sustained commitment toward dismantling the bases of operations of militant groups like Lashkar-e-Taiba, Jaish-e-Muhammad and the Haqqani network.
“We now also know that these very groups also pose a significant threat to members of the international community working in Afghanistan,” Akbaruddin said, in the statement.
However, the U.S. government said on Monday that no further funds had been issued to Pakistan under the provisions of the Kerry-Lugar-Berman Act, which authorized the release of $1.5 billion in aid every year to Pakistan between 2010 and 2014.
“Congress hasn’t been notified of a new funding … and they haven’t approved funding,” U.S. state department spokesperson Jen Psaki said on Monday, adding that no new approval had been made under the Kerry-Lugar-Berman bill since 2013.