As India and Pakistan trade barbs over the brutalization of their soldiers in renewed hostilities on LoC, Sameer Yasir treks to the non-descript Charunda hamlet, the point of recent flare-up, to find its inhabitants living a life of uncertainty and fear ever since militancy broke out in Kashmir.
Days before an artillery shell landed on the rooftop of his house in a remote village in north Kashmir’s Uri region, Abdul Rashid Deeder, a lean short bearded man in his early thirties had advised his family members against visiting the kitchen garden on the right side of his two storied mud-and-brick house. That, perhaps, saved them.
“No one,” he had told his family, “should go to that side. It is a vulnerable place for target by forces across the border.” He was referring to Sawan Patra post of Pakistani Army, which lies on the right hand side of his house in Charunda village located within meters of Line of Control between India and Pakistan. The firing, he says, usually happens from this post.
A ceasefire between India and Pakistan since late Nov 2003 had provided the much-needed relief to the residents of this non-descript village. On Nov 26 2003, both nations had agreed on a ceasefire, coinciding with Eid festival, in the first formal truce between the two armies since the outbreak of militancy in Jammu and Kashmir. Guns along the Line of Control, International Border and in Siachen Glacier fell silent the next day. The then directors general of military operations of India and Pakistan — Lieutenant General B S Takhar and Major General Mohammed Yousuf – had spoken over hotline and wrapped up the truce deal. The announcement was made simultaneously in New Delhi and Islamabad. But the calm was broken on Sept 12 last year when an exchange of gunfire took place between the forces from two countries. This made Deeder paranoid. After the incident, he would not allow any family member to sleep on the first floor. His house is so close to LoC that one can actually count the number of people inside the Pakistani post across the LoC.
At around 2 am this Sunday, Deeder’s worst nightmare came true. The Army had begun constructing observation bunkers in Charunda (as reported by a national newspaper on Thursday) after a 70-year-old Reshma Bi left the village of Charunda to live with her sons and grandchildren across LoC in early September.
The construction activity which violated the ceasefire agreement irked Pakistani rangers. Despite lodging protests with the army, the construction didn’t stop after which the Pakistani rangers fired hundreds of mortars shells followed by machine gunfire on SNP and Finger posts on Indian side. One of the shells hit the rooftop of Deeder’s house, making a gaping hole on the roof and the first floor of his house. The terrified family members who were inside the house started crying and sneaked into a large hole on the left side of their house dug specifically for such circumstances. They all stayed inside the hole till dawn. “We thought everyone in the village would be dead in morning,” Deedar told Kashmir Life, “The firing only stopped in the morning at around 8 am.”
When the family came out of the hole, they found remains of three exploded shells in the vicinity of house. One had landed inside the house, damaging most of the belongings on the first floor. When I entered Deedar’s house on Sunday morning, their belongings were lying scattered. Burnt clothes, torn-out books of his children and a shattered lunchbox what all that was left in the house.
Pakistani Army has blamed Indian Army for the shelling incident, claiming that the Indian troops had raided a military post in the Haji Pir sector, killing a soldier and injuring another. General Officer Commanding (GoC) of 19 Infantry Division, VG Khandare, however, denied these claims. “They fired heavily on our posts and used ‘illuminating mortar shells’ which means they were looking for targets,” Khandare told Kashmir Life. “We returned fire only when the shelling from Pakistani side was very intense. We would not allow anybody to sneak in. The motive of firing might be to push in the militants to this side,” he said.
A flag meeting was held between the two countries last year. The Pakistani delegation led by Lt Col Ajmal had reportedly told the Army officers that they should stop constructing new bunkers along the LoC which provoked the recent killing of two Indian soldiers. “To prevent the constructions, Pakistan Army fired shells towards Uri sector,” Pak officials had told their Indian counterparts in that meeting. —