Killing fields

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by Sheikh Mushtaq

Women mourning the annihilation of five of a seven member family in a Balakote village in Poonch. The family was killed when a Pakistani shell landed on their home. KL Image: Special arrangemnet

On a cool spring morning, a 120mm mortar shell fired by Pakistani troops whistles overhead and explodes with a roar inside a mud house in Devta Dhar, a remote hamlet located in deep Pir Panjal mountains  in Jammu and Kashmir.

After the ground shaking explosion,  shrapnel pierce vital organs of the poor family members and some body parts of inmates are blown to smithereens. Five of the family including an eight-year-old child, were killed. Two teen-age girls, the only survivors of the family were also wounded in the explosion and still battling for their lives in the hospital.

Dozens of shells fall in quick succession in maize fields and lush green mountains.

Minutes later, Indian army’s field guns respond with a distinctive whump. Soon, the mountains echo with the boom of ear-splitting artillery explosions. Nine villagers are seriously wounded across the border in Pakistan-administered Kashmir.

Anger and fear stalk the divided region as weary villagers daily play tag with death on both sides of the bloody frontier.

Scores of people have died and thousands have fled their homes across the heavily militarised border in daily artillery duels between armies of India and Pakistan, who stare at each other across disputed Kashmiri border in a 70-year-old standoff.

“You (India-Pakistan) have turned border areas into killing fields. Have mercy on us, we are going through hell daily,” said angry Nazir Chowdry, a close relative of  Chowdry Mohammad Ramzan who was killed along with his four family members including wife and three sons. “Either go for peace or go to war.”

“Both countries (India, Pakistan) are killing us brutally.  We are not animals, we are not your enemies,” Afzal Khan another villager said. “Please stop killing us.”

Pakistan’s foreign ministry says at least 17 civilians were killed by Indian fire along the 720-km (445-mile) ceasefire line or Line of Control (LoC) since January 2018. Dozens were maimed.

INDIA’s CROWN, PAKISTAN’S JUGULAR VEIN

Delhi calls Kashmir the crown of India, and to Islamabad, it is the jugular vein. Both south Asia’s nuclear-capable rivals claim Kashmir in its entirety and have fought two of their three wars since 1947 over it. Shooting hardly ever stops across the LoC.

In 2003, the two countries had agreed to maintain peace along the Line of Control, the de-facto border cutting across the valley, but there have been intense violations after the relations soured in 2016. In 2017, India accused Pakistan of violating the ceasefire 882 times in Jammu and Kashmir which killed 31 people.

On the other hand, Pakistan blamed Indian troops of violating the ceasefire 1300 times leading to deaths of 51 persons which include troops.

Indian government under Narendra Modi’s leadership has adopted hard-line approach towards Pakistan since 2014. Modi’s BJP consistently attacked rival Congress Party for being “soft” on Pakistan before a landslide victory.

Cops carrying one of the two girls who survived the shelling towards the army chopper at rajouri. KL Image: Special Arrangement

“Modi sahib, if you believe in your words we want you to enter Pakistan and unfurl tri-colour in Lahore,”  an angry lawmaker Javed Rana told a public gathering after five-members of the family were killed by Pakistan mortar fire in the Poonch village. “And if your words are hollow, then leave Kashmir because we are not ready to die untimely deaths anymore.”

Analysts, however, say the hard-line policy adopted by Delhi has failed as the disputed state has descended into a low-intensity conflict.

“Indian side believes that by making its tat more deadly than the Pakistani tit, it is imposing more costs than it incurs itself,” former foreign secretary Shyam Saran  wrote recently in Business Standard. But so far, there is no evidence that deliberate escalation of fire by the Indian side is leading to any change in Pakistani calculus. On the contrary, there is a matching escalatory dynamic at work on the other side, with significant damage being inflicted on border villages on the Indian side.”

Kashmiris: Sitting Ducks in World’s Deadliest Game of ‘Target Practice’

Kashmir is one of the difficult political problems that the subcontinent faces and people are stuck between  ‘polarising and uncompromising’ positions of rulers,  with no end in sight to their suffering.

This situation on the borders has pushed Kashmir into a normalcy which is more of an illusion than reality. Almost every second day, there are gun battles between insurgents and the counter-insurgency grid. The latest was in a Kupwara village where five militants and five members of various counter-insurgent forces were killed. Since January, 11 civilians and fourteen government forces personnel including police, army-men and paramilitary CRPF have been killed in different incidents of violence in the Valley since January.

Paradise Lost 

Few places have been called a paradise more often than Kashmir, but decades of strife has turned the idyllic corner of the subcontinent into a paradise lost.  Its beauty has been part of the problem.

Legend says Kashmir has always enjoyed a special place in the hearts of most Indians and Pakistanis.

The fact is that there have been untold miseries heaped on Kashmiri people due to decades-old animosities between two countries.

Tens of thousands have been killed, and an equal number have been maimed. More than 10,000 disappeared in the strife-torn region. Thousands have migrated.

Chief minister, Mehbooba Mufti, has appealed Delhi and Islamabad to show mercy to the weary people of Jammu and Kashmir and stop the daily exchange of fire. The Partition of the subcontinent continues to haunt the people of Kashmir, she adds.

(A senior journalist, the author was the head of Reuters operations in Jammu and Kashmir till he left the global news agency a few years back.)

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