Kathy Gannon

ISLAMABAD: Pakistan on Thursday said two of its soldiers were killed in an “unprovoked” attack when India fired across the border of the disputed region of Kashmir, while India said it had carried out a “surgical strike” against terrorists, in an exchange that marks an escalation in tensions between the nuclear-armed neighbors.

Pakistan dismissed Indian military reports that it had carried out strikes against “terrorist launch pads” inside the Pakistan-controlled part of Kashmir. Pakistan’s Defense Minister Khawaja Muhammad Asif Thursday said another nine soldiers were wounded in the exchange, which he said occurred at five different places along the disputed border.

Tensions, which are always simmering between India and Pakistan, spiked after an attack earlier this month on an Indian military base in Indian-ruled Kashmir. India accused Pakistan of sending militants belonging to the outlawed Jaish-e-Mohammed group, headquartered in Pakistan, to carry out the attack. Pakistan denied the charge.

India’s Prime Minister Narendra Modi has been under pressure to respond to the attack on its military base.

Pakistan, meanwhile, has lashed out at India over its heavy-handed clampdown in Indian-controlled Kashmir following the killing of a militant Kashmiri leader two months ago. Following the July 8 killing of Burhan Wani by Indian soldiers, violent demonstrations have broken out against Indian rule in Kashmir. A curfew has been in place and an estimated 80 civilians have been killed by Indian troops.

The border shooting comes a day after Pakistan said India will “disintegrate” when Kashmir gains independence.

In a statement Thursday, the Pakistan military said its soldiers “befittingly responded to Indian unprovoked firing” — implying they returned fire— along the Kashmir border, near the villages of Bhimber, Kel and Lipa.

Talking to reporters in New Delhi Thursday, Lt. Gen. Ranbir Singh, director general of military operations for the Indian Army, said “surgical strikes” were carried out in Pakistani-controlled Kashmir late Wednesday.

“Significant casualties were caused to the terrorists and those who support them,” Singh said, adding that the operations were now over and that India had no further plans for more such strikes. He said that he had shared details of the strikes with his Pakistani counterpart. He gave no further details on the nature of the strikes.

Based on intelligence about imminent attacks, Indian soldiers crossed the Line of Control on foot to attack several targets, according to a high-ranking Indian official who would only speak on condition of anonymity. The Indian forces killed at least 10 people before retreating back into Indian controlled territory, the official said. The Indian soldiers suffered no losses, he said.

The Pakistani military however flatly denied any “surgical strikes” had occurred.

“There has been no surgical strike by India, instead there had been cross-border fire initiated and conducted by India,” a Pakistani military statement said.

Pakistan and India often trade fire in Kashmir, a Himalayan region that is split between the two countries and claimed by both in its entirety.

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Associated Press writers Muneeza Naqvi in New Delhi and Munir Ahmed in Islamabad contributed to this report.