WASHINGTON -  Representatives of two leading American newspapers -- The Washington Post and The New York Times - who visited Bhimber, Chamb and Sahmani villages adjoining the Line of Control (LoC) in the disputed Kashmir region have reported that the people they met there told them that although there were sounds of intense shelling and firing, Indian troops never crossed the border to carry out surgical strikes .

In several dozen interviews, the Post reporters quoted the residents as saying that they had been jarred from sleep by the barrage of firepower on last Wednesday. "But none said they had seen or heard anything that supported India’s claim that it carried out cross-border strikes on several staging areas for militant groups that left 'double digits' of militants dead," the Post correspondents Pamela Constable and Aamir Iqbal wrote from Bandala, a town along the Loc.

Pakistani officials have repeatedly denied India’s claims, saying that Indian troops only fired small arms across the Line of Control, killing two Pakistani soldiers. Tensions between the rival nuclear powers are at the highest level in a decade.

Muhammad Bota, 40, a mason in this hillside village, told the Post that his son woke him up shouting, “India has attacked!”and that the night was filled with noise. We are used to routine shelling, but this was unending, with deafening sounds. We believed it was the start of war, and I prayed for the safety of my family and recited all the (holy Quran) verses I could remember.”

But Bota, like many other residents interviewed, said he did not see any signs of Indian troops attacking or crossing the fortified line less than a mile away.

“All the villagers were up, and we didn’t see any troops from the other side or helicopters,” he said. “India says it killed militants here, but the people who live here know each other for generations. If there were some militants somewhere around, they couldn’t have gone undetected. This is all propaganda of India.”

In Bhimber, a town several miles from the Line of Control, a store salesman named Mehran Younas Sheikh, 31, was quoted as saying by the Post that all schools and government offices had been shut down since the intensive firing started and that many people living close to the border had fled to the town.

“It’s a very beautiful area, but now one feels and witnesses the silence of death, apart from the cross firing between the two armies during the night.”

Some residents said they were so exhausted by years of living with tension and fear that they would almost rather see the two countries fight it out, according to the Post dispatch.

Muhammad Kurshid, 26, a Chamb resident, said he has faith in Pakistan’s military leaders to win in such a conflict. “You would think I am insane to want a war,” he said. “No, I am not, it’s just that we can’t spend a normal daily life.”

In Sahmani, a verdant district along the Line of Control with army posts every few hundred yards, residents said they had a close view of activities along the border and described seeing the sky light up with shelling above a mountain ridge where Pakistani troops are stationed. 

“If anyone is moving on the mountain, we can see them easily from here,” said villager Faheem Ahmed, 48. “There was no activity of enemy troops on the mountain, which is the only way they can come.”

The New York Times, who interviewed Malik Rustam, 22, a resident of Mandhole said the Indian troops never left their posts. “They are lying,” he said. “They never crossed the LoC.” A group of villagers standing nearby nodded in agreement, the Times said.

As the latest escalation between India and Pakistan threatened to break the fragile peace between the estranged, nuclear-armed neighbours, residents in Mandhole seemed unusually calm, the Times said.

"Schools have remained open. Grocery stores were serving customers, and buses moved slowly on patchy, winding roads along the hilly terrain," according to the Times. “As the afternoon sun sank behind the hills, several women could be seen working in the fields, cutting grass and herding cattle.”

But, according to the Times dispatch, on the other side of the Line of Control, in the village of Silikote, RajaNazir, 37, a shopkeeper, said Saturday that residents were still uneasy.

“There is fear in the air, and villagers are on their toes fearing a retaliation by Pakistan after the strikes,” Nazir said. His village is near the Indian Army base where militant skilled at least 17 soldiers last month.

“Those who shout on TV for war should come and live here with their children,” he added. “Then they will understand the cost of war.