Pakistan has continued a limited opening of its airspace for commercial flights, after closing it earlier this week at the height of tensions with neighbouring India that saw both countries carry out air raids inside each other’s territories for the first time since the 1971 war. Pakistan’s civil aviation authority said on Sunday it was allowing restricted operations at the Allama Iqbal international airport in the eastern city of Lahore.
This comes after partial operations at Karachi, Quetta, Peshawar and the capital, Islamabad, resumed on Friday. Other airports in Gilgit Baltistan, Punjab province and the interior Sindh region remained closed on Sunday. The travel restrictions are expected to be lifted on Monday at 1pm local time (08:00 GMT), according to the country’s civil aviation authority. International and domestic air travel in the region has been widely disrupted, with several airports in Pakistan and India shut, flights rerouted and suspended, amid fears of a major military escalation between the South Asian nations.
On February 14, a suicide attack killed at least 40 Indian paramilitary troops in the Indian-administered Kashmir town of Pulwama, triggering the current standoff between the two nuclear powers. Indian warplanes carried out air raids on Tuesday inside northeast Pakistan’s Balakot on what New Delhi called camps belonging to Jaish-e-Muhammad (JeM), the armed group which claimed the Pulwama suicide bombing. Islamabad denied any such camps existed. Al Jazeera visited the site of the Indian raids and found that bombs hit a forest and a field in a remote area in northern Pakistan’s town of Jaba, about 100km away from Islamabad.
Pakistan retaliated to the Indian air attacks by shooting down a MiG-21 fighter jet on Wednesday and detained its pilot, Wing Commander Abhinandan Varthaman, who was returned to India on Friday night in a “peace gesture”.
Hours after Abhinandan’s release, firing resumed on Saturday, with at least seven people, including five civilians and two soldiers, killed on either side of the disputed Kashmir border. Two siblings and their mother died after a shell fired by Pakistani soldiers hit their home in Poonch region near the Line of Control (LoC) that divides the Himalayan territory of Kashmir between India and Pakistan, police said.
“At 6pm, Pakistan started shelling, which went on for three hours. One of the shells hit by Pakistan hit the house, in which three members of a family were killed, including two innocent children,” Poonch resident Mohammad Saleem told Al Jazeera. The children’s father was critically wounded and has been admitted to hospital. Reporting from New Delhi, Al Jazeera’s Sohail Rahman said residents of Uri, 50km from Poonch, were moved to safer areas due to the heavy shelling from Pakistan along the LoC.
In Pakistan-administered Kashmir, a man and a boy were killed by Indian shelling in Nakiyal, said Nasrullah Khan, a hospital official. Khan said a man was also wounded in the Tatta Pani area. The Pakistani army said in a statement that two of its soldiers were killed in Nakiyal in an “exchange of fire while targeting Indian posts undertaking firing on civilian population”. Separately, a police official in Rawalakot, speaking to Al Jazeera on condition of anonymity, said that a man had been wounded and three homes destroyed in the Indian shelling overnight.
Also in Pakistan-administered Kashmir, government official Umar Azam said the Indian troops with heavy weapons “indiscriminately targeted border villagers” along the LoC. Rebel groups have been fighting Indian rule since 1989 and demand that Kashmir be united either under Pakistani rule or as an independent country. Anti-India sentiment runs deep in the region, and most people support the rebels’ cause against the Indian rule while also participating in civilian street protests against Indian control.
Al Jazeera’s Rahman said the India-Pakistan standoff is likely to be a major issue in the Indian general election, due in April and May. “In 2014, the issue of relations with Pakistan was not high on the election campaign agenda. Now with another election coming up, Indian politicians are trying to internationally isolate Pakistan, while domestically build consensus that will help them win the election,” he said. Source: Aljazeera