A breath of fresh air for LoC dwellers
The revival of ceasefire agreement between India and Pakistan may have been just breaking news for the world but it is the question of death and life for those who stand in the line of fire. They are the ones the worst victims of border skirmishes and thus have every right to celebrate.
The people residing along the Line of Control (LoC) have a reason to smile as India and Pakistan recently reassured to adhere to the ceasefire agreed in 2003 between the two countries. The decision has rekindled hope of peaceful days ahead among the people living in these areas however, given the past experience, there are some amount of scepticism too in the air.
The dwellers on either side of the LoC have been the worst victims of the ceasefire violations. Numerous villagers — men, women, and children — on either side of the border have lost their lives so far. Apart from the human casualties, people have lost their cattle and properties too since 1990. Though, the guns fell silent following the 2003 ceasefire agreement between the two countries, the silence was temporary.
The previous year recorded the highest ever firing and mortar shelling incidents in the past 17 years. Defiance Minister Rajnath Singh, on February 8, informed parliament that there were 4,649 ceasefire violations by Pakistan on the LoC in 2020. On the other hand, Pakistan also accuses India of frequent ceasefire violations. Pakistani Foreign Ministry, while summoning an Indian diplomat to register a protest over the ceasefire violations on December 20, last year, alleged that the Indian side had committed more than 3,000 violations of the ceasefire in 2020. Also, both sides accuse each other of resorting to “unprovoked” firing on the borders.
Interestingly, the recent announcement about the restoration of the ceasefire came at a time when the bilateral relations between the two countries are at their worst. After a meeting between the Director Generals of Military Operations (DGsMO) of India and Pakistan, on February 25, a joint statement with the ceasefire announcement came as a surprise for everyone. As peace talks between the two countries are suspended since 2016, analysts see the recent truce announcement as an ice-breaking development for the bilateral relations of the two neighboring countries.
While the revival of the earlier ceasefire agreement is being discussed all over by political pundits, analysts and strategic experts, Kashmir Images reached out to those for whom the peace along LoC matters the most as they are the ones who suffer the worst – the people living along LoC.
The dwellers on both sides of the LoC have been falling prey to the cross-border firing and mortar shelling incidents since the early 90s. Hundreds of men, women, and children have died. Besides, loss to the properties and livestock has been phenomenal. The guns were silent only after India and Pakistan had inked a truce deal in 2003. However, this peaceful silence did not last more than few years; Indian and Pakistani forces resorted to attacks on each other’s border areas around 2010. Since then the ceasefire violations had become almost a routine matter. The most recent incident of shelling in the Tangdar sector of Karnah occurred on Jan 22, this year. Last year, there were at least 10 firing and shelling incidents in Tangdhar, Teetwal, Seemari, Kachadiyan, and some other sectors of LoC in Karnah, killing three people including a woman, and causing critical injuries to two other men. Besides human casualties, numerous cattle too got perished in these incidents. Also, as many as 26 houses, two vehicles, a shop, and a school got damaged in the firing and shelling. The newspaper reports say that people living across the LoC have also suffered from the firing and shelling from this side.
It creates havoc when the guns suddenly start roaring on LoC. People at markets, on roads, in fields and other places start running toward safe places. Though the government has built many community bunkers for the residents it is not easy to reach even these safety bunkers when bullets and mortars are raining. In this scenario, the recent ceasefire announcement by the Indian and Pakistani DGsMO indeed is a great message for the border inhabitants. I wish they keep their promise this time and good sense prevails and the hostility ends forever. The recent ceasefire can be a stepping stone in that direction.
We have always been begging and praying for the ceasefire on LoC because we are the people who suffer the most. There is a saying “Jis Tan Laage Soi Jaane” (Only the wearer knows where the shoe pinches), we the sufferers alone can understand what this ceasefire means to us. Our village, Balkote is just a few hundred meters away from the LoC. You can gauge our pain by the fact that as many as eight people have been killed in our village, so far due to the shelling. Of them, five were of a single-family. I lost my sister-in-law, Farooqa Begum, in a daylong border shelling on November 13, 2020. It was a dreadful day for us. The firing did not stop the whole day. We could not even make a proper and timely funeral of the deceased. My own house also got hit by a mortar shell and was badly damaged that day. Obviously, we are happy with the ceasefire announcement. We hope it continues.
I am a resident, a sufferer, and also a reporter from Uri, a densely militarized area of Jammu and Kashmir. Garkote, my village, an abode of around ten thousand inhabitants, is situated at just two kilometers away from the line of control and I have seen bullets and mortar shells raining in my village even when I was a small kid in the early 90s. I have heard the terrible stories of human casualties and destruction of victim families due to cross-border firing and shelling incidents. I have seen people of my village and adjourning areas migrating to safer places as guns started roaring. When I grew up, I started feeding news reports and stories from Uri to the newspapers in Srinagar. For few years, I have been reporting about the killings and destruction due to cross-border firing and shelling as well. It is not easy to see the casualties occurring in one’s own area and then file a report about it. The sites of the destruction, the faces of the wounded people, the images of the dead bodies and faces of the bereaved keep haunting you for a long time after such incidents occur.
For example, I would not be able to forget the day Nov 13, 2020, when five civilians, including a seven year old boy, and a woman died in cross-border firing and shelling in various areas and sectors of Uri. Afrar Ahmad, the 7-year-old boy was outside his home in Gohallan Uri, when a mortar shell fell near him. He died on the spot. Apart from five civilians, two army men were also killed on that day. Some casualties were also reported from the other side of the LoC. When all this was happening, I was desperately trying to get the details of the casualties. I rushed to the Sub District Hospital (SDH) Uri, to see if any injured was there. I found a police officer at the hospital equally desperate to know the details. It was not possible to go to the spots, as the firing and shelling was continuously going on throughout the day. Secondly, being a border area, our telecommunication network mostly remains low. It took me hours to collect all the details of the horrifying incident. As I told you I have reported several incidents of cross-border shelling in my professional career but I think I will not be able to forget what happened on Nov 13, last year.
In Uri, most of the people and households have suffered directly or indirectly because of the cross border firing and shelling on the LoC during the past three decades, and this is why people have applauded the recent ceasefire announcement by the Indian and Pakistani DGsMO.
We, the people living on or near the LoC, excitedly welcome the ceasefire announcement. What could be better than a ceasefire on LoC for the people like us? We have seen only killings, injuries, and destruction of the properties during all these years. My village is just a few hundred meters away from the Pakistani posts on the Line of Control. We are even in their rifle fire range. Several people including some of my relatives have died in Pakistani firing and shelling so far.
The most recent killing was of Bodhraj, a resident of our village. He died when a bullet fired by the Pakistani army hit him. He was a porter. Unfortunately, we are not even being compensated properly for the losses. I, as a sarpanch, had to hold a sit-in protest to ensure the army and civil administration provides compensation to the three children and the widow of Bodhraj.
Apart from the killings, the cross-border firing and shelling incidents have left our village under-developed. Our houses and schools get damaged due to the frequent shelling. We are always on run to safeguard ourselves. In worst times of shelling, people of our village and the adjoining villages runaway leaving everything behind. Our livestock becomes target of the bullets. Besides death and destruction, ceasefire violations impact all developmental activities and the education of our children. That is why I say nothing can be better for the people like us than a ceasefire between Indian and Pakistani forces.
I have no words to express my happiness over the recent ceasefire announcement. We have miserably suffered due to the border shelling between Indian and Pakistani Armies during the past three decades. In my village Charunda, there are 1400 inhabitants living in 340 households. Even in this small village, as many as 19 people, including eight women have died and as many as 38 people rendered handicapped so far, due to the border flare-ups between the two armies during the past thirty years. A woman in our village fell prey to the bullets just a few months ago, in 2020. In one of such incidents, I lost my maternal uncle Noor ud Din in 1999. The 70-year-old was directly hit by a mortar shell. Later, we collected pieces of his body around the spot. Since our village is very close to the LoC, it always becomes the first target when forces from either side start showering fire. You will find the same situation in many other areas in Uri. Everybody living near the LoC has a horrifying story to tell you.
Two years ago, on November 11, 2019, there was a marriage function in our village when both sides resorted to firing. The bullets and mortar shells started raining over our village. All of us were in the house of the host. The whole function was badly disrupted. The next day, the groom, who was expected to reach with a large Barrat (wedding procession), reached here accompanied by just a few people and quickly returned with his bride. Nobody wanted to accompany him to our village in given circumstances. We have been living a miserable life because of the frequent border flare-ups. I wish this ceasefire will prove long-lasting.
The ceasefire violation from the Pakistani side had become almost a daily affair during the past few years. At least seven to eight casualties occurred in Poonch due to the ceasefire violations in the previous year. However, since the day both sides agreed to honor the ceasefire last month, not a single incident occurred and people living close to the LoC are happy about this development. The unpredictability of the firing and shelling on the borders had halted all the developmental work of the people as well as the government. Most of the people living in vulnerable areas near LoC had constructed their houses and other buildings only after the ceasefire in 2003. But due to the ceasefire violations, people have been unable to construct or repair their houses. Similarly, the construction of several roads and other public properties in the border areas has been pending or going at a very low pace. However, since the recent announcement about the ceasefire came, everybody hopes that constructions and other developmental works continue safely now. The local people are happy about it.
We also hope that the bunkers constructed to safeguard during ceasefire violations would be used for some other purposes now. The government had sanctioned the construction of 1380 bunkers in the border areas of this district. Of them, 1180 were financed by the central government and the remaining 200 by the UT administration. More than a thousand of them have already been constructed and some are under construction. The rainwater will pour in if these bunkers are left half-constructed or without putting a roof on them. Water-filled bunkers can prove dangerous for the cattle and even for the children. We will complete their construction and keep them under proper watch so that the anti-national elements will not be able to misuse them. But we hope that there will be no need to use these bunkers for the purposes they were built.