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Foreign diplomats taken to AJK

22 October, 2019

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NEELUM VALLEY: A team of foreign diplomats posted in Pakistan were taken to the Neelum Valley in Azad Jammu and Kashmir (AJK) to witness firsthand whether the Indian army had "smashed four terror launch pads" there early Sunday, Foreign Office spokesperson Dr Mohammad Faisal said in a tweet on Tuesday.

The diplomats have been taken to the Nauseri, Shahkot and Jura sectors near the Line of Control (LoC), as well as the Nausada village, which has suffered severe damage in attacks by Indian troops. The trip has been arranged so they can verify for themselves the claims made by the Indian army chief.

Inter-Services Public Relations Director General Maj Gen Asif Ghafoor briefed the diplomats and media persons about the situation in the area. The visitors were also shown remains of the artillery shells that allegedly fired by the Indian troops from across the LoC.

DG ISPR said that in 2018, there were 3,038 Indian ceasefire violations and 58 civilians were martyred while 319 were injured. In 2019, so far there were 2,608 ceasefire violations and 44 civilians were martyred and 230 were injured due to Indian firing.

He said the difference between the Pakistan Army and Indian army was that the former follows military norms and only targets Indian posts.

DG ISPR added that the foreign diplomats had visited Jura bazaar and met the local population and shop owners and witnessed firsthand the damage inflicted on the shops and houses that were claimed to be launchpads by India. "It’s all innocent people being targeted by India," he said.

No official from the Indian High Commission joined the team visiting the LoC today, Dr Faisal said.

"The Indian side has not joined us in the visit to the LoC nor have they provided coordinates of the alleged 'launchpads'," the FO spokesperson tweeted. He added that India had also failed to share the coordinates of launchpads which the Indian army claimed to have destroyed.

"'Claims' by Indian Army Chief remain just that: 'claims'," he added.

Maj Gen Asif Ghafoor — who had last night challenged Indian officials "to take any foreign diplomat/media to ‘prove’ [its allegations] on ground" — also commented on the absence of Indian officials: "What good [is the] Indian High Commission which can’t stand with its Army Chief?"

"Indian High Commission staff didn’t have the moral courage to accompany fellow diplomats in Pakistan to LOC," he tweeted. "However, a group of foreign diplomats and media is on the way to LOC to see the truth on [the] ground."

The development came a morning after Maj Gen Ghafoor's challenge to the Indian army to prove its claims.

The challenge was issued by Gen Ghafoor in response to Indian army chief Gen Bipin Rawat's claim that Indian forces had "smashed four terror launch pads" in Neelum valley. Bipin made the claims after six civilians and a soldier of the Pakistan Army embraced martyrdom in indiscriminate and "ruthless" shelling by Indian troops from across the LoC on Sunday.

Pakistan had immediately rejected the allegations as a "pack of lies".

"Indians have no grounds to support false claim made by their COAS," Maj Gen Ghafoor had said in a tweet on Monday night. "If they don’t want to go they have the option to share claimed targeted locations with our Foreign Office. We will take foreign diplomats and media tomorrow on those given locations. Let all see facts on ground."

He was responding to a tweet by Dr Faisal, in which the FO spokesperson had said that the absence of response to Maj Gen Ghafoor's offer by the Indian side "indicates that they have no grounds to support false claim by their COAS. We expect them to respond soon."

On Sunday, six civilians and a soldier of the Pakistan Army embraced martyrdom while two soldiers and at least nine civilians were wounded in AJK after Indian troops resorted to “indiscriminate and ruthless” shelling from across the Line of Control (LoC) past midnight “without any provocation”, civil and military officials said.

In a befitting response, Pakistan Army effectively targeted Indian positions across the dividing line, destroying two Indian bunkers, killing nine Indian soldiers and injuring several other troops, Maj Gen Ghafoor had said.

According to the civilian and military officials, the Nauseri sector in Muzaffarabad district, and its adjoining Jura and Shahkot sectors in Neelum valley, were attacked by Indian troops without pause from midnight onwards, using field artillery, mortars and tracer munition to brazenly target civilians.

Apart from the casualties, 39 houses and 28 shops had been destroyed while 93 houses and 60 shops were partially damaged by Indian shelling, the district commissioner had told Dawn. Besides, 16 vehicles, including four motorcycles, were also damaged, he said.

The attack was condemned by Prime Minister Imran Khan, who extended his condolences to the families of the martyrs and lauded the prompt response by the Pakistan Army.

Following the unprovoked attacks by the troops, the Indian army chief had claimed that the army had "smashed" terror camps in Neelum Valley.

AJK Prime Minister Raja Farooq Haider, in response, had termed Gen Bipin's claims as "rubbish as their claim regarding [the] Balakot attack".

He posted photos of the victims of the Indian shelling as well as those of the destroyed shops along the main road in Jura, and asked Indian army chief to behave like a soldier and not like a Bollywood film writer.

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