Ceasefire in tatters as cross-border shelling damages houses displaces hundreds

As hostilities between India and Pakistan along the LoC go up, Faisul Yaseen travels to Uri in the frontier district of Baramulla, meets the affected border residents, and sends us a detailed report

 

The hostilities between the Indian and Pakistani troops are taking their toll on the people living along the Line of Control (LoC) that separates Kashmir between the two countries.

Since the fresh skirmishes along the LoC, around 7000 people have been affected while over a thousand have migrated from Uri sector as the cross-border shelling has put their lives in danger.

Lal Din of Silikote, the last village on this side of LoC in Uri, said the people living along the LoC were witnessing a war-like situation.

He said they had come to know that people on the Pakistani side had also been told to shift from their villages as the hostilities had flared up.

Silikote, the last village along LoC, is 8 km from Uri town and is separated from the other side of Kashmir by Haji Peer stream.

From the Sillikote village, one can look at a Pakistani Army picket on a peak.

Silikote is surrounded by Churunda and Tillawari, the badly-hit villages in the recent exchange of gunfire along the LoC and on the other side by Pakistan area of Khawaja Banday.

Silikote, a fenced village, comprises of some 30 households.

Usually, the only entrance gate of this village opens at 7 am and closes at 7 pm for the residents but the Army men guarding the gate have fled from the place and abandoned the village these days.

A top police officer, who is not authorized to talk to the media, said the scale of confrontation on the borders between the two countries was too high and that the Indian troops were using Bofors 40 mm guns to fire artillery at the neighbouring country’s posts.

“If we are using Bofors guns, imagine how much artillery Pakistani troops would be using against us,” he said.

Lal Hussain Kohli of Chrunda, another village on the LoC in Uri sector, said the shelling since February 20 was the heaviest since 2003.

“We fear if we live there, we will die, and the entire villages apart from the elderly are empty,” he said. “The shelling continues throughout the day.”

Chrunda is home to some 1400 people, many of who have been rendered disabled by the shelling over years.

Local criticized the State government and the opposition legislator Muhammad Shafi (Uri) of the opposition saying that after the escalation of hostilities no one had come to them to see their condition.

“They only come to us for votes,” Shabir Ahmad of Silikote said.

These villages wear a deserted look and bullets and shells can be seen lying in the houses.

Muhammad Yaqoob of Balakote village along LoC said the villagers were terrorized as the shells from across had landed in their houses.

Calling upon the government to provide alternate accommodations to the affected population, he said most villagers had abandoned their villages as they did not feel it was safe to live in underground bunkers.

Deputy Commissioner (DC) Baramulla, Naseer Ahmad Naqash said the cross-border shelling had affected a population of around 7000 in six villages of Uri sector along the LoC, and over a thousand had migrated from the three villages of Chrunda, Silikote and Kamalkote.

Around 500 to 600 persons from these villages have migrated on their own while another 500 to 600 have been shifted by the government to Government Girls Higher Secondary School, Uri.

“The government has set up a camp for these people and is providing boarding and lodging,” the DC said.

He said everyone in the affected villages had been warned that it would be better for them to migrate from the villages.

With the people coming under fire, the residents have pitched for resumption of dialogue process between India and Pakistan for the return of peace.

Chairman of All Parties Hurriyat Conference (APHC), Mirwaiz Umar Farooq also called for dialogue between the two nuclear neighbours to de-escalate the border flare-up.

Urging New Delhi and Islamabad to hold dialogue to end border hostilities, the Mirwaiz advocated for a political solution to Kashmir issue.

“We feel both India and Pakistan should hold dialogue as soon as possible. Till the time basic issue of Kashmir is resolved, and both the countries take initiatives at their levels to resolve it, peace in South Asia is not possible. Nor will stability occur between relations of the two countries. We have always advocated for political solution to resolve Kashmir issue. This is only possible when all the three stakeholders – India, Pakistan and Kashmiris are involved in a process.”

Last month, Chief Minister Mehbooba Mufti said at least 134 civilians had been killed along the LoC and other violence related incidents during the last three years of her government.

She said 477 people had also been injured in the border skirmishes and other violence-related incidents on this side of LoC.

Mufti said 63 civilians were killed in ceasefire violations and other forms of violence on this side of LoC in 2017, 38 in 2015 and 33 in 2016.

Giving further details, she said 187 civilians were injured in 2017 followed by 149 in 2016 and 141 in 2015.

Just like other territorial disputes across the world that have seen confrontations between the armies of the rival countries, the Indian and Pakistani army, barring a brief period of ceasefire along the borders have often remained engaged in skirmishes.

The territorial dispute throughout the world like Badme, Artchvasen exclave of Gegharkunik province of Armenia, Golan Heights, the Korean Peninsula, East Jerusalem, Aegean, Hans Island, Gulf of Venezuela Sea Border have witnessed skirmishes but none of these disputes have been as bloodied as the 720-km LoC and the 198-km International Border (IB) between India and Pakistan in Jammu Kashmir.

The troops of the two countries have been at eyeball-to-eyeball confrontation ever since 1947 resulting in two full-scale wars of 1947 and 1965 besides the brief Kargil War in 1999.

In addition, the two countries also entered into a war in 1971 over East Pakistan, which ended in the division of Pakistan and the creation of Bangladesh.

The recent ceasefire violations along the LoC have resulted in the killings of troops of both India and Pakistan and are creating war hysterics in the region.

As the standoff between the two countries continues, hundreds of families living in villages lying in close proximity to the LoC and IB, are fleeing to save themselves from the shelling of the rival armies.

Besides leaving behind their houses and belongings, their displacement from the LoC to “safer destinations” is wrought with danger to their lives.

LoC and the IB in Kashmir is considered to be the fourth most dangerous border in the world in terms of landmines after Korean Demilitarized Zone (DMZ), the border between Cambodia and Thailand, and the Iran-Iraq border.

Research Coordinator and Editor of International Campaign to Ban Landmines (ICBL) Yeshua Moser Puangsuwan said while 80 percent governments of the world have joined the ICBL campaign to ban landmines, the nuclear neighbours India and Pakistan have not signed the campaign yet.

Puangsuwan said India and Pakistan were morally bound to sign the campaign to save the lives of the civilians living near the borders.

Chairman of the All Parties Hurriyat Conference (M) Syed Ali Geelani has made his apprehensions about the LoC hostilities known.

Geelani puts the blame on the Government of India (GoI) saying the conflict along the borders was directly related to the non-resolution of Kashmir issue.

Fourteen years ago, the then Pakistan Prime Minister Mir Zafarullah Khan Jamali took an initiative for peace by announcing unilateral ceasefire along the LoC and IB in Kashmir on November 23, 2003.

New Delhi replied positively and the then Indian Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee agreed on truce along the border three days later on November 26, 2003.

Peace returned to the villages along the LoC and IB between India and Pakistan and the villagers started living without the fear of shelling from across the divide.

Presently, while some backchannel efforts are being put in to improve the souring relations between India and Pakistan, not much is happening on the ground, and nothing at all is happening to stop border hostilities.

The National Security Advisers (NSA) of India and Pakistan had met on December 26 in Bangkok.

“We raised the issue of cross-border terrorism in those talks because our main issue is how to ensure the safety of our region from the scourge of cross-border terrorism,” MEA spokesperson Raveesh Kumar said. “We have said earlier that talks and terror cannot go together but ‘talks on terror’ can definitely go ahead.”

He acknowledged that the NSA-level parleys were part of the ‘operational level talks’ that take place between India and Pakistan, despite the breakdown in the Comprehensive Bilateral Dialogue (CBD) that was launched in December 2015.

These Track II talks to engage Pakistan was a break from New Delhi’s position that India had taken following the attack on the Pathankot airbase, when New Delhi cancelled the CBD that was launched by External Affairs Minister SushmaSwaraj during her visit to Islamabad on December 9, 2015.

When members of the former external affairs minister, Yashwant Sinha-led team, who were on a visit to different areas of LoC in Kashmir and Jammu, met the border residents they told them either to find a lasting solution to their miseries or go for an all-out war.

“The situation is very bad and people are living in great danger. Their life has been unsettled. Many of the people are living in camps for almost a year now and they feel totally unsafe,” Sinha said after his recent visit to border areas of Nowshera and RS Pura sectors in Jammu.

“We were told by the residents of Nowshera and RS Pura areas that the situation can’t go like this and a solution has to be found for what is happening along the LoC,” Sinha said.

He said the residents told them that India should either go for a war or ensure 2003 ceasefire agreement.

“A woman sarpanch in RS Pura said ceasefire violations can’t be allowed like this and that we had to find a permanent solution to this problem,” Sinha said.

He said the point local residents were making was that it was the primary responsibility of the government to protect the life and property of its citizens and they could not be exposed to this threat.

“The residents said something will have to be done about it and the government is in the best position to find out because it has all the information,” Sinha said.

Bofors, anti-tank guided missiles, heavy artillery in use

During the latest skirmishes between the Indian and Pakistani troops, heavy weaponry is being used, which is not damaging the houses and putting the lives of civilians at high risk.

Talking to Kashmir Scan, a top police officer said the scale of confrontation on the borders between the two countries was so high and that the Indian troops were using Bofors 40 mm guns to fire artillery at the neighbouring country’s posts.

“If we are using Bofors guns, imagine how much artillery Pakistani troops would be using against us,” he said.

The police officer said in addition to Bofors 40 mm guns, the Indian troops were using heavy 120 mm mortar, anti-tank guided missiles and 105 mm light field guns.

In Rajouri and Nowshera sectors in Jammu division, six civilians have been killed in shelling in the last 10 months.

While both sides trying to target army posts, the shells often land in civilian areas.

There has been no let-up in ceasefire violations during the past two months, and according to government sources, the ceasefire violations have crossed the 400 mark in just two months and is likely to record the highest number of violations in recent years.

The DGMOs meetings between the two countries armies have not been resumed as yet and the use of heavy casualty arms and ammunition from frontlines would only result in more casualties.

(The author can be mailed at faisulyaseen@gmail.com)

 

 

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