At least 12 people have been killed, including eight Pakistani soldiers, and nine people are missing after being hit by landslides in the mountainous Kashmir region, officials said on Saturday.
A military rescue operation swung into action after heavy snows on Friday triggered two landslides at a remote outpost in the Kel area of Pakistan-administered Kashmir near the de facto border with India.
“Three bodies of soldiers were recovered yesterday. The dead bodies of five soldiers including a captain and four civilians have been recovered today (Saturday),” said a statement by the military.
Local administration officials said they were searching for more dead bodies as nine people from the rescue party were still missing.
“Eight soldiers and 10 civilians went to rescue the soldiers at the post, all of the rescuers were buried in the second landslide, so we are searching for the rest of the bodies,” local administration official Raja Saqib Muneer told reporters.
Disputed Kashmir has caused two of the three wars between India and Pakistan since their independence from Britain in 1947.
But with separatist violence having dropped sharply since a peace process began in 2004, the greatest dangers facing soldiers stationed at remote outposts are often landslides and extreme weather conditions.
In April, 140 Pakistani soldiers were buried when a huge wall of snow crashed into the remote Siachen Glacier base high in the mountains in Kashmir. They have all been declared dead, although some of the bodies remain buried.
That tragedy renewed debate about how much sense it made for a country where millions live below the poverty line to maintain outposts in Siachen, dubbed “the world’s highest battleground”, at immense cost when violence had decreased.
And in February, at least 16 Indian soldiers on duty in the mountains of Kashmir were killed when two avalanches swept through army camps.
In Friday’s accident, a wall of mud and snow hit the outpost in the early hours, said Muneer, deputy commissioner of Neelam district, of which Kel is part.
The 18-strong team was quickly dispatched to search for the soldiers at the outpost, which is 130 kilometres from Pakistan-administered Kashmir’s main town of Muzaffarabad, he said.
Separatist violence has fallen in Muslim-majority, heavily militarised Kashmir, but occasional gunfights still erupt between militants and security forces.