KHAIRPUR TAMIWALI, Pakistan — Pakistan’s prime minister and powerful army chief traveled Wednesday to a strategic area along the border with India to observe a drill meant to display the country’s military might amid escalating tensions with New Delhi over the disputed Kashmir region.
Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif and Army Chief Gen. Raheel Sharif watched the exercise — dubbed “Strike of Thunder” and complete with planes, tanks, artillery and other heavy weapons — to test the army’s preparedness.
The drill, in the Khairpur Tamiwali desert area near the district or Bahawalpur, came three days after Indian fire in Kashmir killed seven Pakistani soldiers in a new escalation between the two nuclear-armed rivals.
The two sides have traded fire repeatedly in recent weeks across the Line of Control, which divides the Himalayan region into India- and Pakistani-controlled zones. Both Pakistan and India claim Kashmir in its entirety.
Pakistan’s army chief has less than two weeks before retirement after his three-year term. The government has not yet named his successor.
In a speech at the drill, Pakistan’s prime minister paid a glowing tribute to the armed forces and reiterated his government’s commitment to fighting terrorism.
Nawaz Sharif also issued a veiled warning to India, saying that Pakistan would deliver a “befitting response” to any hostile enemy action.
The latest escalation was set off by a deadly September attack on an Indian military base in the Indian-controlled part of Kashmir. India has blamed Pakistan-based militants for that attack and others, a charge Pakistan denies.
Tensions have run high since Indian troops killed a Kashmiri militant leader in July. The killing ignited some of the most violent protests in years, and dozens of people have been killed in India’s resulting crackdown.
Despite pleas from the United Nations, the two sides have continued to exchange fire in Kashmir. The violence has forced thousands of villagers on the Pakistani side to flee for safety.
India says it has been retaliating for Pakistani violations of a 2003 cease-fire.
Two of the three wars between India and Pakistan since 1947 have been fought over their competing claims to Kashmir.
Islamabad: Pakistan is conducting a military exercise in a strategically located area bordering India, with Prime Minster Nawaz Sharif and the army chief reviewing the readiness of the army and the air force to deal with any situation amid growing tension with India.
The manoeuvres are taking place near border close to Bahawalpur town in Punjab province.
Officials said that the Prime Minister is chief guest at the exercise. Army chief General Raheel Sharif will also witness the exercise.
Helicopter gunships and ground troops will take part in the exercise, which comes just days after seven Pakistani soldiers were killed along the LoC.
The exercise shows the state of readiness of Pakistani military to deal with any situation arising out of recent tension with India, according to security officials.
Prime Minister Sharif said yesterday that Pakistan cannot be bullied by Indian “tactics” and its restraint should not be “misunderstood” as weakness, warning that his country was fully capable of defending against “any belligerence”.
Expressing grief over the death of the seven soldiers, Sharif had said deliberate escalation of tension along LoC by Indian forces is a threat to regional peace and security.
“It is also a futile attempt of the Indian authorities to divert the world’s attention from the worst kind of atrocities they are committing” in Kashmir, he had said.