First Lull In Kashmir Since Latest India-Pakistan Escalation

In this handout photo released by the Indian Ministry of Defence, Indian Defence Minister Nirmala Sitharaman, left, meets with Wing Commander Abhinandan Varthaman at a hospital in New Delhi, India, Saturday, March 2, 2019. The captured Indian pilot was handed over Friday in a "gesture of peace" promised by Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan amid a dramatic escalation with the country's archrival over the disputed region of Kashmir. (Indian Ministry of Defence Photo via AP)


— Residents near the disputed boundary in divided Kashmir region said Sunday it was quiet overnight, their first lull since a dangerous escalation between Pakistan and India erupted last week bringing the two nuclear-armed rivals close to full-out war.

Many villagers used the calm in Pakistani-held Kashmir to leave their homes in Chakoti area along the so-called Line of Control, the demarcation line that divides the troubled Himalayan region on an Indian and a Pakistani sector, and move to safety.

Nazakat Hussain said his and many other families have no underground shelters or bunkers on their land to protect them and have no other option but to leave. The rough cold weather and snow, along with the cross-border shooting, prevented them from leaving earlier.

Pakistani government official Moazzam Zafar said some 200 families have already taken shelter in three large government buildings in the territory. Zafar said the authorities were providing warm clothing, bedding, food and medicines, and would establish more such camps.

At least eight civilians and two soldiers have been killed in Pakistani-controlled Kashmir since tensions soared following India’s airstrike last Tuesday inside Pakistan that New Delhi said targeted militants behind a Feb. 14 suicide bombing in Indian-controlled Kashmir that killed 40 Indian troops.

Pakistan retaliated, shooting down a fighter jet on Wednesday and detaining its pilot, who was returned to India on Friday. India, in turn, on Saturday handed over the body of a Pakistani civilian prisoner beaten to death by inmates in a jail in India last week. The man, Skahir Ullah, was buried later Sunday in his home village of Sialkot in Punjab province.

Kashmir has been divided between India and Pakistan practically since their independence from British rule in 1947. The two countries each claim Kashmir in its entirety and have fought two of the three wars between them over it.

The rivals struck a cease-fire deal in 2003 but regularly violate it and trade cross-border fire.

Associated Press writer Zarar Khan in Islamabad contributed to this report.