Tense times for people on India-Pakistan border

As some Kashmiris head to safety, others stay and pray for peace in the troubled region
Tense times for people on India-Pakistan border

Punjab police beef up security at the Attari joint check post on the India-Pakistan border, where many people assembled to greet Indian Air Force pilot Abhinandan Varthaman on March 1 after Pakistani authorities said he would be released. (Photo by IANS)

Thousands of people on the India-Pakistan border are living in fear and uncertainty as the countries engage in a high-stakes game of military one-upmanship.

The border city of Kashmir, the epicenter of tension, looks deserted these days, with businesses, schools and colleges all closed down.

Normal life has been disrupted since the nuclear-armed South Asian rivals began airstrikes on Feb. 26, the first aerial combat in about five decades.

Daily laborer Shahid Malik, who lives in the border town of Poonch in Indian-administered Kashmir, was preparing to move to a government safe house on Feb. 27.

“I have an aged mother, a diabetic patient needing constant medication. My two daughters and wife also have to move with me,” he said as he hurriedly packed essentials to carry with them.

Sign up to receive UCAN Daily Full Bulletin
Thank you. You are now signed up to our Daily Full Bulletin newsletter
Malik vividly remembers how in January 2018 hostilities between the countries led to heavy shelling that killed 20 civilians in his area alone.

“We were taken to a school building where we spent seven long days. I don’t know how long our present stay is going to be,” Malik told ucanews.com.

Tensions escalated when 40 Indian soldiers were killed in Kashmir on Feb. 14 when a suicide attacker rammed an explosive-laden car into a military convey in the worst peacetime attack since both countries were formed in 1947.

Pakistan-based militant group Jaish-e-Mohammad claimed responsibility for the attack, which led India to promise retaliation.

Indian Air Force fighter jets crossed the border on Feb. 26 and bombed what India called terrorist training camps. A day later, Pakistan Air Force jets struck military installations in Jammu and Kashmir. The aerial attacks across the Line of Control dividing Indian and Pakistani territory are the first since a war in 1971.

Both countries claimed to have downed aircraft, with Pakistan capturing an Indian pilot who escaped from a crashed jet.

The tension eased slightly on Feb. 28 when Pakistan promised to return the captured pilot as Prime Minister Imran Khan stressed his resolve to have a dialogue with India to solve outstanding issues.

Living between hope and despair

The thousands on the border, mostly small-time farmers, live in uncertainty. Media reports said India was building more than 14,000 bunkers for families living along its border with Pakistan.

Vijay Kumar, a farmer living in the border town of Ranbir Singh Pora, said he is tired of the constant skirmishes between the archrivals.

He worries about a shell hitting his house that was built just a year ago. “We may soon be asked to leave the village but I don’t want to go. I want to stay here and pray nothing happens to my house,” he said.

The 47-year-old is used to witnessing mild tensions between the countries but says the present situation looks different.

“I have never seen fighter jets hovering over the skies with such intensity. We are all panic-stricken and fear that bombs may flatten our entire village,” Kumar told ucanews.com on Feb. 27.

Mohan Singh, another villager, told ucanews.com that scores of people have already left the village due to fear of being bombed by Pakistani fighter jets. He has delayed moving out because of his two cows and a buffalo.

“I am concerned about the safety of these innocent creatures who don’t know what is going on,” said Singh, who lives alone after moving his wife and three daughters to stay with relatives far from border.

Choudhary Shareef-ud-din’s house in the Poonch area was destroyed by a shell last year, so this time he has sent all his family members to stay with relatives.

The 56-year-old said he wanted to take care of his cattle and wouldn’t leave until he has found a safer place for his livestock.

“I lost my house a year ago. It exhausted all my savings to rebuild it. I don’t want to lose more and urge both the countries to stop war for God’s sake,” Choudhary told ucanews.com.

Harvest season under threat

Rajat Bhagat, who lives in the Sucheet Garh area of Jammu, just one kilometer from the border, was busy on Feb. 27 moving his 3-month-old son, wife and parents to rented accommodation in state capital Srinagar.

“The harvest season is just a month away and we don’t know what will happen to the crops if shelling takes place. All we have is a half-acre piece of land,” Bhagat said.

Despite his meager income, he rented the accommodation for his family so as not to endanger the life of his son.

The state government has set up over 80 relief camps, while government buildings, including schools situated in safer areas, have been turned into relief centers for those evacuated from border towns.

India-Pakistan tension began soon after the 1947 partition of British India when both countries claimed in full the Muslim-majority area of Kashmir. After two wars and umpteen skirmishes, both now administer parts of it.

An armed Islamic insurgency began 30 years ago to free the Indian side of Kashmir, which India says has been supported by Pakistan. At least 100,000 people, including civilians, militants and security personnel, have been killed.

India claims the Feb. 14 attack on its armed forces was linked to the Kashmir issue and was done at the behest of Pakistan, a claim entirely rejected by Pakistan.

© Copyright 2019, UCANews.com All rights reserved
© Copyright 2019, Union of Catholic Asian News Limited. All rights reserved
Expect for any fair dealing permitted under the Hong Kong Copyright Ordinance.
No part of this publication may be reproduced by any means without prior permission.