Mother and 2 children are killed by Pakistani mortar blast in Kashmir

Kashmir clash kills six: Mother and two children are killed by Pakistani mortar blast as Indian troops fire back amid growing tension between nuclear nations

  • Shell fired by Pakistani soldiers hit home with mortar in Poonch region of Kashmir, killing three last night
  • Comes after Wing Commander Abhinandan Varthaman crossed border at checkpoint into India last night 
  • His capture by Pakistani forces after his plane was shot down sparked fierce military tension and fears of war
  • Islamabad said it would release him in a ‘peace gesture’ but the countries remain on high military alert 

Soldiers from India and Pakistan have targeted each other along the volatile frontier in disputed Kashmir, killing at least six civilians and wounding four others, officials have said.

Fighting resumed overnight into dawn, leaving two siblings and their mother dead in Indian-controlled Kashmir.

The three died after a shell fired by Pakistani soldiers hit their home in Poonch region near the so-called Line of Control that divides the Himalayan territory between the two nuclear-armed rivals, police said.

The children’s father was critically wounded and has been hospitalised. It is not known which country the other three civilians originated from. 

Pakistan’s military also says two of its soldiers have been killed in an exchange of fire with Indian forces, marking the first fatalities for Pakistani troops since Wednesday. 

Tensions have been running high since Indian aircraft crossed into Pakistan on Tuesday, carrying out what India called a pre-emptive strike against militants blamed for a February 14 suicide bombing in Indian-controlled Kashmir that killed 40 Indian troops.

Pakistan retaliated, shooting down a MiG-21 fighter jet on Wednesday and detained its pilot, who was returned to India on Friday in a peace gesture.

Soldiers from India and Pakistan have targeted each other along the volatile frontier in disputed Kashmir, killing at least six civilians and wounding four others. Pictured: one of the injured men 

Three died after a shell fired by Pakistani soldiers hit their home in Poonch region near the so-called Line of Control that divides the Himalayan territory between the two nuclear-armed rivals. A fourth, pictured, was taken to hospital 

Tensions have been running high since Indian aircraft crossed into Pakistan on Tuesday, carrying out what India called a pre-emptive strike against militants blamed for a February 14 suicide bombing. Pictured: protesters in Kashmir

Pictured: an ambulance takes an injured man to hospital after fighting resumed overnight into dawn in the disputed region of Kashmir 

Wing Commander Abhinandan Varthaman revealed that he ate sensitive documents so they would not fall into his captors’ hands ahead of his release at the Wagah border yesterday.  

Pakistan’s PM called the handover of the pilot a ‘peace gesture’, intended to defuse military tensions between the nuclear-armed nations.  

Thousands of flag-waving supporters gathered at the border to welcome him home but crowds had dwindled by nightfall as the handover dragged on for hours without explanation.  

The Hero: Wing Commander Abhinandan Varthaman has been hailed for his heroic stoicism after he was surrounded by furious Pakistani locals on Wednesday

Wing Commander Varthaman has been praised for his stoic professionalism after he fired warning shots as locals went after him on the ground in Kashmir on Wednesday. 

He parachuted from his burning fuselage and then fled the locals to eat secret documents and destroy military evidence, the Washington Post has revealed.

Shortly before 9.30pm Indian time (4pm GMT) yesterday he finally appeared at the border checkpoint escorted by military officers and crossed the frontier into India. 

As Islamabad released him they also published another video of the pilot, in which he apparently praised his ‘very professional’ Pakistani military captors, who had rescued him from a mob.  

Despite the move to de-escalate the crisis both sides fired barrages of shells across the frontier today, with reports of attacks on Indian police officers in the province.

The pilot finally appeared after darkness had fallen on Friday evening, crossing the border accompanied by a Red Cross representative, before he was driven away again in a convoy. 

In a brief statement after his release the Indian Air Force, who greeted him on his return, said they were ‘happy to have him back’. 

‘Wing Commander Abhinandan he has just been returned to us as per the standard operating procedure of the IAF,’ they said. 

‘He will now be taken for a detailed medical check up, particularly because he had to eject from an aeroplane which would have put his entire body under great stress.’ 

Captured Indian pilot Abhinandan Varthaman (right) standing at Wagah border crossing during his elaborate handover ceremony in eastern Pakistan’s Lahore

A Pakistani soldier stands guard near the wreckage of Wine Commander Varthaman’s plane after it was shot down by the Pakistan military on Wednesday

Homecoming: Abhinandan Varthaman, the Indian pilot captured in Pakistan, has crossed the border to return home

Return: The Indian pilot captured in Pakistan has returned home after crowds waited for hours to welcome him back. As he appeared at the crossing he was flanked by a Red Cross representative and military officers 

People burn an Indian flag during an anti-India protest in Karachi on Friday as tempers continued to flare following the clashes between the Indian and Pakistani air forces

War Hero: Indians flocked to the streets in anticipation of the Wing Commander’s arrival on home soil, waving flags and chanting in celebration

While Indians celebrated the return of their hero pilot, Pakistanis burned effigies of the Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi 

Men gathered on streets of New Delhi to dance and cheer the arrival of the pilot, who was said to have acted quickly to swallow sensitive documents

Propaganda: The pilot appeared in this video released by the Pakistani government shortly before his release in which he appeared to praise Pakistan’s military for their ‘professional’ handling of him

In the video published by the Pakistani government he appeared to praise its military for looking after him, although it was not clear who was with him when he was speaking.  

Describing how he was shot down, he said: ‘When I opened my parachute and when I dropped down, I had a pistol and there were a lot of people and I only had one way to save myself. So I dropped my pistol.

‘So I tried to run and people ran after me. They had a lot of spirit and at that moment two young men from the Pakistani army came and they saved me from there. 

‘There was a captain from the Pakistani army, he came and he saved me from these people and didn’t let anything else happen to me. 

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‘Then he took me to his unit where I received first aid and after that they took me to the hospital for further aid. The Pakistani army is a very professional service.’

Varthaman ejected from his burning jet and parachuted down to a crowd of ‘spirited’ locals who descended him on him with fury when he asked them where he was.

In a moment of cinematic drama, he stumbled backwards and fired his handgun into the sky before sprinting from the baying mob.

He dived into a nearby pond as they got close to him and was able to swallow some of the sensitive military documents on him, destroying others in the murky water around him. 

He also appeared to suggest that the episode had been overblown, saying: ‘When there’s a small matter, it gets turned into a big deal and people get wound up over it.’ 

Appreciation: The captured Indian pilot’s father – Air Marshal Varthaman, himself a retired pilot – and mother Shobha Varthaman are warmly applauded by fellow passengers as they board a plane from Chennai to Delhi 

Transport: The car transferring Indian Air Force pilot Abhinandan Varthaman drives near the border post on Friday evening 

Convoy: The motorcade carrying the captured Indian pilot arrives at the broder post on Friday evening after a long wait 

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    Here for the ride: Motorcyclist carry Indian flags near the Wagah border crossing near the northern city of Amritsar today 

    Bring him home: People shout patriotic slogans before the arrival of the Indian Air Force pilot, who was captured by Pakistan on Wednesday at the height of the tensions over the disputed Kashmir province

    By Friday lunchtime thousands of Indians had gathered at the border crossing to welcome him home, singing and waving flags as they prepared to welcome the pilot home. 

    The pilot, who has become the face of the latest Kashmir crisis, had arrived in a convoy from Lahore to the border crossing, escorted by military vehicles with soldiers. 

    His father – Air Marshal Varthaman, himself a retired pilot – and mother Shobha Varthaman had earned warm applause as they took their seats on a flight from Chennai to Delhi to see their son. 

    The pilot’s grandfather was also in the Indian Air Force and his wife is a former helicopter pilot, Indian media reported.  

    A group of schoolchildren brandished a painting of the pilot, along with placards reading: ‘Hope for peace between India & Pakistan’ and ‘Thank you Imran Khan’. 

    Speaking to Indian television, some spectators said they would wait until they were sure the pilot had returned, even as the handover dragged on into the evening. There was no official explanation for the delay.    

    Yesterday Pakistan’s PM Imran Khan announced the pilot’s release as a ‘peace gesture’, while Islamabad partially re-opened its airspace today, but he warned his country was ‘prepared for any eventuality and response’.  

    Patient: Indians hold posters to welcome the Wing Commander back to the country as the handover dragged on for hours

    Expectation: People and media gather at the Wagah border crossing – usually the site of a military ceremony every day – before the arrival of the Indian Air Force pilot on Friday

    Arrival? A motorcade – reported by Indian media to be carrying the Air Force pilot – arrives at the border post on Friday

    Standing guard: Indian police near the border with Pakistan at Wagah on Friday, where the pilot at the centre of this week’s military and diplomatic crisis is being handed over in a bid to defuse tensions 

    Delight: Indian residents dance, shout slogans and wave the national flag at a central market in New Delhi on Friday 

    Turnout: Indians hold national flags and shout slogans as they wait to welcome their pilot back at the border crossing 

    Anticipation: Indian men shout slogans and wave the national flag near the India-Pakistan border as they wait for the Wing Commander’s return 

    Tension: Despite the ‘peace gesture’ there were Pakistani religious students rallying against India in Islamabad today

    Anti-India rally: People shout slogans and burn an effigy of Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi in Peshawar today 

    Ready: People hold Indian national flags as they dance and celebrate while anticipating the arrival of the IAF pilot 

    Today Indian forces fought battles with militants in Kashmir that left seven dead while at least one person was killed by mortar fire in the province. 

    The airman’s capture by Pakistani forces – after his plane was shot down in a Wednesday dog-fight – sparked a fresh crisis over the Himalayan province and prompted pleas from world leaders to step back from the brink of war.    

    The pilot from Chennai, who has 16 years of experience, endeared himself to Indians with his calm and polite manner in a Pakistani video after he was shot down.  

    His refusal to proffer more details than necessary – ‘I am sorry major, I am not supposed to tell you this’ – won him particular sympathy in India.

    He also asked politely: ‘May I request some information. Am I with the Pakistani army?’    

    Face of the crisis: Captured pilot Abhinandan Varthaman pictured in Pakistani custody on Wednesday. Pakistan’s PM Imran Khan announced yesterday that the airman would be released on Friday as a ‘peace gesture’ 

    Media scrum: Photographers gather on the Pakistani side of the Wagah border ahead of the pilot’s expected handover today

    Hero: Indian people hold placards and photographs of Indian Air Force pilot Abhinandan Varthaman, as they celebrate the announcement of his impending release at a demonstration in Amritsar on Thursday 

    Line-up: Indian policemen stand guard as they prepare to receive the Indian pilot the Wagah border crossing on Friday 

    Border post: A Pakistani security official checks a bus carrying passengers to India amid excitement over the pilot’s return

    Prepared: Indian policemen and media wait for the return of the Indian pilot at the India-Pakistan border at Wagah today

    A map showing the military clout of Pakistan (left) and India (right) and the volatile disputed region of Kashmir to the north and Jammu and Kashmir to the south

    Damage: Villagers in Kalal in India’s Jammu region examine what they claim is wreckage from a Pakistani mortar shell today 

    The highly symbolic Wagah crossing point, where the handover is due to take place, is famed for hosting colourful rival ceremonies by Indian and Pakistani soldiers each day at sundown – although it has been cancelled today. 

    Patriotic spectators fill stadium-style stands on each side to cheer as goosestepping troops bring down their national flags in elaborate, competing performances.  

    Pakistan complains over ‘eco-terorism’ 

    Pakistan plans to lodge a complaint against India at the United Nations, accusing it of ‘eco-terrorism’ over air strikes that damaged pine trees. 

    Indian warplanes on Tuesday bombed a hilly forest area near the northern Pakistani town of Balakot. 

    Indian warplanes on Tuesday bombed a hilly forest area near the northern Pakistani town of Balako

    Pakistan denied there were any such camps in the area and locals said only one elderly villager was hurt.

    Climate Change Minister Malik Amin Aslam said Indian jets bombed a ‘forest reserve’ and the government was undertaking an environmental impact assessment.

    By Reuters 

    A ceasefire line divides Kashmir between India and Pakistan, but both claim the Himalayan region in its entirety. 

    Pakistan is also set to partially re-open airspace on Friday – allowing flights to and from Islamabad, Peshawar, Karachi and Quetta – after thousands of passengers were left stranded when air travel was shut down. 

    Thai Airways cancelled nearly 30 flights, affecting 5,000 passengers. The decision affected services to London, Munich, Paris, Brussels, Milan, Vienna, Stockholm, Zurich, Copenhagen and Oslo. 

    Today there was an Emirates service from Peshawar to Dubai, an Air Arabia flight from Peshawar to Ras Al Khaimah in the UAE and a Qatar Airways trip from Peshawar to Doha. 

    Other airports, including the one located in the eastern city of Lahore that borders India, will remain closed until March 4. 

    However Indian forces remain on a ‘heightened’ state of alert despite Pakistan’s promise to free the pilot, military chiefs said on Thursday. 

    New Delhi also announced it had banned the largest political and religious group in Indian-controlled Kashmir, imposing a security lockdown in several parts of the region on Friday. 

    Both governments had faced domestic pressure not to cave in, as anti-India protesters in Pakistan waved their country’s flag and told their military: ‘Move forward, the nation is with you’. 

    Some Indian politicians also called for more aggression including ‘secret missions’ to target suspected terrorists in Pakistan.  

    Party atmosphere: Indian people celebrate with drums and flags as they anticipate the arrival of Abhinandan Varthaman

    Support: People wear face paint with the colours of the Indian flag and one man holds a sign calling the pilot an ‘Indian hero’

    Resumption: Passengers at Karachi’s Jinnah International Airport arrive for their flights after the airspace was partly opened

    Pakistani passengers gather outside the Jinnah International Airport as they wait for flight operations to resume in Karachi

    Opposition: Pakistani religious students and other protesters rally against India in Islamabad on Friday 

    Long wait: Indian security forces stand guard near the India-Pakistan border in Wagah as the pilot’s crossing was pushed back

    Hero’s welcome: People wave an Indian flag and carry a huge garland as they gather at the border crossing on Friday morning and wait to welcome Abhinandan Varthaman home from Pakistan

    Strong feelings: Sardar Ateeq, former Prime Minister of Pakistani Kashmir, addresses an anti-India rally in Islamabad today 

    Keeping watch: Paramilitary soldiers stand guard at a check post, before the release of Indian pilot

    On wheels: Pakistani police patrol near the India and Pakistan border on the Pakistani side of the Wagah crossing 

    Captured: Photos shared on social media purport to show the moment when one of the Indian Air Force pilots is arrested in Pakistani Kashmir

    Rally: Pakistanis wave their national flag in a protest against India in Quetta on Thursday amid rising tensions between them. Pakistan’s PM Imran Khan has appealed for caution given the ‘nature of the weapons that we have’ 

    Evidence: Indian Air Force officials display wreckage of AMRAAM air-to-air missile that they say was fired by Pakistan Air Force fighter jet during a strike over Kashmir

    Q&A: India, Pakistan and Kashmir


    Both India and Pakistan are believed to possess more than 100 nuclear warheads each and have conducted atomic weapon tests. Both countries have test-fired nuclear-capable missiles. Pakistan also has refused to renounce a first-strike option with its atomic bombs should it feel outgunned in a conventional war. It takes less than four minutes for a missile fired from Pakistan to reach India. The Bulletin of Atomic Scientists warns that ‘computer models have predicted that the physical impacts of a nuclear exchange between India and Pakistan, or even a single strike on a large city, would be devastating . and would reverberate throughout the world.’


    When Britain granted independence to the region in 1947, it divided the Indian subcontinent into a predominantly Hindu India and mostly Muslim Pakistan. Some areas could decide their own fate. In Kashmir, the only Muslim majority area ruled by a Hindu monarch, its ruler decided against giving the population a choice. That started the first India-Pakistan war in 1947. The conflict ended in 1949 when a UN resolution established the Line of Control dividing Kashmir between the two nations and calling for a direct vote on which country should control it. That vote has never been held. Indian and Pakistan fought a second war over Kashmir in 1965.


    India and Pakistan fought a third war in 1971 over what was East Pakistan, which later became Bangladesh. In 1999 and 2000, after Pakistan’s military sent a ground force into Indian-controlled Kashmir at Kargil, the two countries faced off and a worried world urged both to pull back from the brink of war, fearing it could escalate into a nuclear conflict. Even in times of relative peace the two nations readily engage in brinkmanship and aggressive rhetoric.

    Despite the peace offering Khan warned New Delhi that Pakistan was ‘prepared for any eventuality and response’, saying: ‘I beseech India not to force us down the path of war.’ 

    ‘Our efforts to de-escalate should not be considered our weakness. We are indulging our efforts to maintain peace in the region,’ he said. 

    ‘Pakistan acted with caution and restraint and replied to Indian aggression only to show that we are capable of safeguarding our sovereignty.’ 

    Today China said it welcomed Pakistan’s decision to ‘express kindness’ and hand over the captured Indian pilot after four straight days of cross-border attacks. 

    A close Pakistani ally, China has blocked India’s attempts to have the U.N. list as a terrorist the leader of Jaish-e-Mohammad, a Pakistan-based group that claimed responsibility for the February Kashmir bombing.  

    The latest crisis, which erupted after an Indian airstrike on Tuesday in retaliation for a bombing in Kashmir, reached its highest point in almost 50 years this week as both countries claimed to have shot down war planes. 

    India responded to the bombing with an airstrike inside Pakistan on Tuesday, the first such raid since the two nations’ 1971 war over territory that later became Bangladesh.  

    Abhinandan was shot down over Kashmir on Wednesday, after a dogfight in the skies over the disputed Himalayan region, and footage of the pilot being beaten by locals went viral in both countries.   

    A video released by the Pakistani military later showed Abhinandan sipping tea, his face swollen and sporting bruises but otherwise collected and calm. 

    His father, a retired air force officer, told the Times of India newspaper, ‘Just look at the way he talked so bravely… a true soldier… we are proud of him.’ 

    While India has consistently accused its neighbour of supporting extremist groups, Pakistan has equally vehemently denied any role in attacks in India. 

    Kashmir has been claimed by both India and Pakistan since almost immediately after their creation in 1947. The countries have fought three wars against each other, two directly dealing with the disputed region.    

    In another sign of de-escalation yesterday Pakistan’s foreign ministry said India had handed over its file on the deadly Kashmir bombing earlier this month which sparked the latest tensions. 

    Pakistan has said it will act against those linked to the February 14 Kashmir bombing if actionable intelligence is shared with it, but has denied involvement in the attack.  

    While India has consistently accused its neighbour of supporting extremist groups, Pakistan has equally vehemently denied any role in attacks in India. 

    Kashmir has been claimed by both India and Pakistan since almost immediately after their creation in 1947. The countries have fought three wars against each other, two directly dealing with the disputed region. 

    The surging tensions had prompted Pakistan to close down its airspace, disrupting major routes between Europe and South Asia and grounding thousands of travellers worldwide.

    On Friday morning the Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) announced a decision would be taken on re-opening airspace ‘shortly’. Earlier it had said flights would remain grounded until at least 1.00 pm Friday local time (0800 GMT). 

    Firepower: This diagram shows the huge military capabilities of the two nuclear-armed nations 

    Supplies: A train loaded with Indian army trucks and artillery guns is parked at a railway station on the outskirts of Jammu on Thursday amid fears the tension between the two nuclear-armed powers could lead to war 

    Debris: A house in India’s Jammu region is damaged by what villagers say was a mortar shell attack from across the border

    Refugees: Kashmiri women who fled Chakothi – a town near the Line of Control in Kashmir – arrive to take refuge at a school around 25 miles from Mufzafarabad, the capital of Pakistani Kashmir 

    Security: Indian Border Security Force (BSF) soldiers patrol along the fence near the border with Pakistan on Thursday

    Debris: In India on Thursday night a defence officer holds up part of an air-to-air AMRAAM missile which was allegedly fired by Pakistani Air Force aircraft. India accuses them of violating Indian airspace

    Slogans: Pakistani activists of the Ahle Sunnat Wal Jamaat party shout during an anti-Indian protest rally in Islamabad today

    Protests: Kashmiris hold Pakistani flag as they shout anti-India slogans during a protest in Muzaffarabad, the capital of Pakistani administered Kashmir

    Ready for war: Pakistani protesters hold a banner reading: ‘Pakistan army move forward, the nation is with you,’ in a rally against India in Quetta as world leaders urged the two nations to step back from the brink of war 

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