Last week India and Pakistani soldiers on the Line of Control for the first time since 2003 ceasefire used artillery to target each other’s positions in north Kashmir’s Uri sector. The exchange of firing on the LoC even triggered the migration and many families had to leave there places amid shelling and firing that also left many houses damaged. Situation on both sides of the LoC is explosive and even there are apprehensions the things could escalate and could go out of control.
Though there has been an occasional ceasefire violation on the LoC, however, from past one year there has been substantial increase in the ceasefire violations on the LoC not only in Jammu sector, but also in the Kashmir that has been peaceful since India and Pakistan decided to obey ceasefire that came into existence in 2003. The ceasefire paved the way for the opening of Srinagar – Muzuffarabad bus service also known as peace bus or Karwan-e-Aman bus service and then start of Cross LoC trade are still going on and are considered one of the biggest Confidence Building Measures (CBM’s) between India and Pakistan. The peaceful situation is eroding fast and situation has been volatile and explosive with both the Indian and Pakistani soldiers not only indulging in BAT actions but they also use high caliber weapons to destroy each other’s bunkers. In this confrontation on borders and LoC, every time civilians living close to the Line of Control and International border find themselves sitting ducks and civilians on both sides get killed.
From last year there has been steep rise in the incidents of ceasefire on the Line of Control in Kashmir. Only this year as per the figures of home department there has been 46 incidents of ceasefire violations which are considerably high especially when cease fire is still intact on the papers. After the migration of villagers in Uri sector and also villages on the LoC in Pakistan Administered Kashmir (PAK), there are apprehensions that situation could escalate especially in the summers.
Situation was so volatile that Prime Minister of Pakistan Administered Kashmir Raja Farooq Hyder recently said that India is planning for a surgical strike or some ‘mini war’ on the LoC and warned forceful action and strong response from the Pakistani side. Similar words were expressed by Pakistan’s Defense Minister, Khawja Asif in response to the statement of Indian Defence Minister, Nirmala Sithamaran who in a press conference had said that Pakistan will have to pay the price for attack on the Sunjwan army camp in Jammu that left five soldiers and a civilian dead. Sitharaman had made these remarks after visiting the army that was attacked by the foreign militants who were also killed inside the camp during an attack.
In Kashmir, top army officials, however, blamed the Pakistan for raising the levels of escalation to help the infiltrators to sneak into valley, especially when there is very less snowfall on the mountains and passes on the Line of Control. Recently, the army’s top most commander in Kashmir said that 200 militants are waiting at launching pads close to the LoC to enter into the Valley.
The army officials claim that ‘trained militants’ are waiting to sneak into valley, especially after the killing of some top commanders in various operations, the army officials say that some experienced commanders could be infiltrated into Kashmir by militant groups in Pakistan. The escalation on the borders and on the Line of Control have triggered fear among the villagers living on both sides of the invisible line. It was after 15 years that villagers in Silikote, Churunda, Tilawari were forced to migrate from their homes in the wake of the heavy shelling.
“When ceasefire between India and Pakistan was announced in 2003, we were the happiest people in Uri. We reaped the dividends of peace in these years and prayed that the ceasefire should last forever,’’ said Mohammad Abdullah who lives close to zero line in Silikote Uri.
This last village that is separated by a small stream with the Pakistan Administered Kashmir and the village have been witnessing the constant ceasefire violations in the past one year. ‘Earlier we had underground bunkers that provided us safety. When there was shelling we used to hide along with our families in those bunkers, but in 2005 earthquake all those bunkers got razed to ground. Now we have no place to hide and become the target of shells.’’
Abdullah said that people living on borders or Loc have seen lot of death and destruction in the past decades. ‘Time has come when India and Pakistan should keep in mind that peace is the only option. War always brings destruction.’’
Another Uri resident, Shabir Ahmad said that there used to be ceasefire violations in the past also but this time artillery was also used. ‘The soldiers from both the sides are retaliating and using heavy weapons to target each other.’’
Last week three civilians were injured when Indian and Pakistani soldiers resorted to firing at Churanda village.
Local villagers said that shelling continued for two days. ‘It started around 3 pm and stopped around 7 pm next day. Both the sides used heavy shells,’’ a local villager in Churunda said. The village had earlier also witnessed ceasefire violation between India and Pakistan troops. In October 2012, three civilians including a woman were killed in the incident of ceasefire violation. Two months ago, a lady was injured at Kamalkote village in a similar incident. Though villagers who had migrated from their places have returned but there is palpable fear in the air.
“The tension between India and Pakistan has left us perturbed. We can’t sleep properly. We know the consequences of the shelling and firing. So we want things should become normal. So we could again live a peaceful life.’’
Even J&K chief minister, Mehbooba Mufti stressed on leadership of both India and Pakistan to initiate dialogue so that levels of tension on the borders could be de escalated so that common people will not made to suffer. The demand of J&K chief minister was set aside by the BJP general secretary, Ram Madhav in an interview when he said that Centre will decide when to talk with Pakistan and rebuffed to J&K chief minister.
Madhav, however, said that that her point of view , however, could be given a thought. Despite the escalation on the borders and LoC in which soldiers from both India and Pakistan are losing lives, there have been fresh contacts between India and Pakistan at track two level and at the level of business conferences.
The National Security Advisors of India and Pakistan also met in another country and discussed various issues related to India and Pakistan. Also a meeting of top officers of Rangers and the BSF was held at R S Pora border and issues were discussed to de escalate tension between two neighbouring nations. Despite these meetings there is no headway between the relationship between India and Pakistan, however, these meetings have helped to bring down some tension on the borders and on the LoC, however, another big militant strike could again see fresh rounds of shelling and attacks on the LoC.
In absence of any India and Pakistan dialogue and in the backdrop of two hot summers in Kashmir, the analysts have apprehensions that this summer the Valley may also witness spate of violence and fresh militant attacks in different parts of Kashmir.
“The situation is very tense on borders, LoC and also in Valley. The militant attacks and civilian killings are taking place every week. There is every possibility that militants could again try to make this summer volatile in the state and with infiltration of fresh militant groups situation could further deteriorate,’’ said a political analyst. ‘’It is very important that India and Pakistan should talk to bring the levels of escalation and since it is an election year in both India and Pakistan so it seems impossible.”