New Delhi: Heavy artillery and mortar fire lit up the skies and smoke billowed nightlong in Kotli district town of Pakistan Occupied Kashmir (PoK) on Friday-Saturday as India pounded its neighbour for harbouring Jaish-e-Mohammed (JeM) and other Islamist terror groups. On February 14, Jaish orchestrated the deadliest fidayeen attack of Indian forces in Pulwama, Kashmir.

LoC, stock and blazing barrels

Indian howitzer guns roared as Pakistan complained of several civilian casualties. Unofficial figures put it as high as 20 dead. The artillery smashed or seriously damaged many buildings which Pakistani troops were using as firing and observation positions.

The Pakistan government had set up a Situation Command and Control Room in Kotli after retaliatory airstrikes carried out by India on February 26 in Pakistan’s Balakot, which acts as Jaish headquarters and hosts some of its biggest terror training camps.

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“Analysts expected the situation to de-escalate Friday evening as Prime Minister Imran Khan released a captured Indian pilot, in an overture towards New Delhi,” The Dawn reported.

It quoted Umer Azam, the deputy commissioner of Kotli as saying: “The shelling was so intense that two to three mortar shells also fell in the main market of tehsil headquarters Nakyal.”

In India’s crosshairs

Kotli, the largest district in PoK, is about three hours' drive from Pakistani capital Islamabad and its Army headquarters Rawalpindi.

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“Two Pakistan Army soldiers were martyred at Nakiyal sector in exchange of fire while targeting Indian posts undertaking firing on civilian population, the military's media wing, Inter Services Public Relations (ISPR), said. The martyred soldiers have been identified as Havaldar Abdur Rub and Naik Khuram,” Geo News reported.

The Dawn report said: “According to residents, the last time Nakiyal bazaar was hit by Indian shelling was in 2002, a year before the truce agreement between the rival troops.”