ISLAMABAD, PAKISTAN — Clashes erupted between Indian and Pakistani security forces Friday, killing at least 11 civilians and wounding scores more on both sides of the contested border, according to officials in both countries.
The violence came as Indian and Pakistani leaders continued to bicker over the prospect of face-to-face talks.
Indian and Pakistani security forces traded small-arms, artillery and mortar fire, damaging several villages on both sides of the border, officials said. The violence coincided with the kickoff of celebrations in India marking a half-century since the 1965 war between India and Pakistan, one of three major conflicts since 1947 between the neighbors, who now have nuclear arms.
“As we mark the 50th anniversary of the 1965 war, I bow to all brave soldiers who fought for our motherland in the war,” Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi said in a tweet.
India and Pakistan accused each other of starting the latest confrontation.
According to Pakistan’s military, the fighting began with the “unprovoked Indian shelling” of several Pakistani villages near Sialkot in eastern Punjab province. The assault killed eight Pakistanis and wounded 47 others, including 24 women and 11 children, Pakistani officials said.
“Pakistani troops are befittingly responding,” a Pakistani statement said.
India’s military, however, said the fighting started when Pakistani forces began firing into India’s disputed Kashmir region.
At least three Indian civilians were killed and 18 wounded, according to a district official in the Indian town of Ranbir Singh Pura. The Pakistani assault involved small arms and mortars, prompting a response from Indian border guards, Indian officials said.
“I can only say that our security forces are alert,” India’s defense minister, Manohar Parrikar, said in an interview. “They are taking action.”
In response to the violence, Pakistan’s powerful army chief, Gen. Raheel Sharif, rushed to Sialkot on Friday afternoon to meet with victims and Pakistani border guards. His spokesman, Maj. Gen. Asim Bajwa, accused India of crossing “all limits to terrorize civilians.”
“Indian firing and violation targeting civs is Highly unprofessional, unethical, irresponsible & cowardly,” Bajwa said on Twitter.
Pakistani officials said the clashes began about midnight and continued for about 12 hours.
If tensions persist, several Pakistani politicians and commentators said Friday, the two countries could be headed for a “limited war.”
“It’s dangerous brinkmanship and could lead to wider conflict,” said Saad Muhammad, a retired Pakistani army brigadier and Islamabad-based military analyst. “They need to keep in mind that any major escalation would have disastrous consequences.”
With Pakistan restricting journalists’ access to the border region, it was difficult for independent observers to assess claims about civilian casualties. Although flare-ups along the border are common, it has been more than a year since Pakistan has claimed so many civilian casualties along the border in a single day.
“It’s a large number, and it’s because there is heavy firing by Indian troops,” said one Pakistani security official, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to talk to the media.
A cease-fire between Indian and Pakistani security forces has nominally been in effect since 2003. But over the past two years, sudden spikes in violence along the border have become more frequent.
Last August, five Indian and four Pakistani civilians were killed during a similar clash along the border. And nine civilians were killed earlier this month when fighting broke out in the same area, the Associated Press reported.
India’s External Affairs Ministry lodged a formal protest with Pakistan’s high commissioner in New Delhi last week, blaming Pakistani forces for the deaths of six civilians. Pakistan’s Foreign Office also summoned the Indian high commissioner in Islamabad, angered by what officials say have been 22 civilian deaths along the Pakistani side of the border this summer.
Last week, planned talks between the countries’ national security advisers were canceled following a flurry of media statements and news conferences by both sides. Pakistan ultimately backed out of the talks after India demanded that they focus only on terrorism and not involve third parties, including Kashmiri separatists.
Planned talks last summer also failed to materialize. Still, Modi and Pakistani Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif did meet briefly last month on the sidelines of a Shanghai Cooperation Organization summit in Russia.
And despite the recent violence along the border, most observers doubt that the leaders of either country are willing to risk another broader war. But Western analysts remain concerned that a miscalculation by either side could quickly escalate.
Annie Gowen and Rama Lakshmi in New Delhi and Shaiq Hussain in Islamabad contributed to this report.