“First they Indians] fired some shells on Pakistan Army posts, but suddenly they started pounding civilian installations with mortar shells,” said Akhtar Ayub, an Athmuqam based disaster risk management officer.
A woman was killed and nine other people, including two police constables, were injured in Pakistan Administered Kashmir (PAK) as Indian army resorted to mortar shelling from across the restive Line of Control (LoC) on Monday, officials in Muzaffarabad said.
The target on the last day of 2018 was Athmuqam, the otherwise rarely hit district headquarters of the picturesque Neelum Valley, located some 80 kilometres northeast of state capital Muzaffarabad.
“First they [Indians] fired some shells on Pakistan Army posts, but suddenly they started pounding civilian installations with mortar shells,” said Akhtar Ayub, an Athmuqam based disaster risk management officer.
Video footages shared by some Athmuqam residents in WhatsApp groups showed people running to safety amid shelling and clouds of smoke.
Ayub said Indian troops targeted the entire one-kilometre radius of Athmuqam, overlooked by Indian gun positions atop lofty mountains across the unmarked dividing line.
“Shelling was so indiscriminate that we thought they [Indians] will devastate everything existing on the ground,” said Samiya Amir, a student of Neelum Valley campus of the University of Pakistan Administered Kashmir.
“All of us were confined in our campus building in a state of fear,” the teenager added.
Same was the situation in all other educational institutions, where students were trapped during the course of shelling, Ayub said.
He said many people took shelter in the building of a local hospital because of the absence of bunkers.
The shelling stopped after an hour but left a 27-year-old woman dead and nine others wounded, Ayub said.
The deceased, identified as Asiya Bibi, was hit in the head by a shrapnel from a mortar shell outside her house, he said. The mother of a toddler died on the spot.
The injured were identified as Sadaf Zia, 16, Misbah Jameel, 11, Kulsoom Shafqat, 18, Zarmeen Bibi, 20, Ansar Bibi, 35 and her son Khawaja Amir, 20, Rafaqat Khan, 35, and police constables Raja Zulqarnain, 36, and Malik Sajjad Jahangir, 33.
The 200km-long Neelum Valley had long faced the brunt of heavy cross-border shelling between the rival troops until a truce agreement in November 2003 brought much-needed relief to its inhabitants.
Over the past 15 years, while the truce agreement saw numerous violations elsewhere causing several civilian casualties, the Neelum Valley remained an exception as Indian troops never directly hit its civilian population even during the days of heightened tensions.
However, this privilege came to an end in late 2016, when initially a famous tourist rest house located a few kilometres ahead of Athmuqam was shelled by Indian troops on October 29 followed by shelling on a passenger coach on November 23 that had left more than 10 people dead and several others wounded.
An official said all tourists in the valley were safe because most of them were away from Athmuqam.
“The traffic between Athmuqam and Muzaffarabad is plying normally,” he said.
Casualties on the last day of the outgoing year pushed the death toll in PAK since January to 28, including 19 men and 9 women, according to Saeed Qureshi, a senior officer at the State Disaster Management Authority (SDMA).
The number of injured was 172, including 167 men and 80 women, he said.
He said 29 houses were damaged partially while three houses and a shop were damaged completely due to shelling.
Apart from human losses, at least 13 cattle head had also perished in the violence.