Wall Mounted Peace

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An “eternally hopeful” PM Manmohan Singh once famously said the natural resources of the region will jointly be used by people from both sides of the LoC, but in 2013, BSF started working on a huge wall on the international border dividing Jammu from Pakistan. Will it extend to LoC, as was the case with fencing and floodlighting, asks Shah Abbas

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Apparently, encouraged by the results of first erecting of barbed wire and then installing floodlights and modern equipment on the International Border (IB) and then on the Line of Control (LoC), India now plans to build a 10-metre high embankment along the 198-km stretch of international border that separates Jammu from Pakistan.

The plan coincides with the completion of ten years of the ceasefire agreement between India and Pakistan along the IB and Line of Control (LoC). The plan is being criticized by all the separatist organizations active in the valley despite serious differences among them.

The strong reaction from the separatist camp is probably because of their apprehension that “Great wall” may later be extended up to the LoC, thus paving the way for the status quo of what they call “Kashmir dispute”.

The people, who are opposing the Indian plan by threatening “strong agitation” against it, are probably influenced by the facts that any border activity from Indian side has finally ended on the LoC, the de-facto line dividing erstwhile Jammu and Kashmir.

The villagers of Nikowal, in R S Pora Sector Jammu too have reservations about the “great wall”. They demand compensation for 250 acres of fertile land before the embarkment of a fresh land acquisition exercise. “In 1996 when the BSF raised the border fence in our village, we lost 250 acres of fertile land, which is now lying barren between the fence and the Zero Line. Till date, not even a penny has been given to the affected farmers,” said the Sarpanch Kuldeep Singh.

LoC

Resisting the building of any new walls around 200 people belonging to 70 families in the village would be affected by the new exercise.

Pertinently, according to the locals, the existing fence along the border in Nikowal village has three gates and the BSF has not opened them even once in over a year.

LoC was an invisible line till Pakistan’s last Military ruler, retired Gen Parvaiz Musharraf, practically helped India to erect the present barbed wire on the LoC. India and Pakistan signed a ceasefire agreement on the LoC, in 2003, just before Musharraf, vomited out his “four-point formula” about Kashmir tangle. Musharraf was a champion of making LoC “irrelevant”.

Later on April 18, 2005, then Pakistani President Musharraf and India’s Prime Minister Manmohan Singh signed ‘a peace omen’ and said that ‘it was irreversible.’

Since then, cross border attacks from both India and Pakistan declined by 60 per cent. An Indian-built ‘anti-infiltration fence’ along the IB and LoC also contributed to the reduction in the infiltration incidents.

The LoC became more visible when India installed floodlights on it to “curb the infiltration” which it considers is encouraged rather patronized by Islamabad as its “state policy.”

Pertinently, erection of barbed wire was initiated from the International Border (IB) and the initiative finally ended on the LoC.

LoC, known not only for the cross firings between Indian and Pakistani troops but for fake encounters and the unknown and unnamed graves as well, does not follow any well defined geographical feature and often a home has its courtyard in India and structure in Pakistan. In Rajouri – Poonch belt of Jammu, there are 17 major villages which stand practically divided by the LoC. The line runs north to south from the Chenab Valley to Lunda in the Kishanganga Valley; it swings on an east-west alignment to the Indus River, and northeast to Karakorum Pass, the eastern terminus of the China-Pakistan boundary. Worth to mention here, that the 1049-km long border dividing J&K from Pakistani administered territories, comprises 199 km of the international border (IB) between Pakistani Punjab and J&K, 740 km are LoC with PaK and the rest 110 km are actual ground position line (AGPL) on Siachen heights.

India shares 3323 Km (including 740 Km Line of Control (LoC) in Jammu and Kashmir sector) of its land border with Pakistan. This border runs along Gujarat, Rajasthan, Punjab and Jammu & Kashmir.

Soldiers patrolling near LoC Fence

Soldiers patrolling near LoC Fence

The Indo-Pakistan border has varied terrain and distinct geographical features and especially LoC is considered the most active borderline in the world.

After three wars and massive skirmishes over Kargil in 1999, rival armies calmed their roaring guns only in 2003. But they frequently break the truce in different sectors even United Nations Military Observers Group in India and Pakistan (UNMOGIP) is there to monitor the ceasefire line since 1949.

“Cross-firing started on the LoC just after India and Pakistan got their freedom from Britain, and it is going on since then,” a political science scholar in Kashmir University told Kashmir Life.

According to defence sources, 256 infiltrators were arrested in 2006 and 2007 only. 123 infiltrators were arrested till November 2008 and there were two instances of armed people cutting the border fence in the Jammu Sector.

“By 2012 there had been significant gains from the erection of the barbed fence along the LoC and international border in Jammu and Kashmir,” defence sources said.

They added that the Indian Army succeeded in the erection of the “anti-infiltration” structure only because of the truce.

Now in 2013, the withdrawal of western powers from Afghanistan and its implications is being discussed everywhere. “New Delhi has succeeded in making it a very hot and sensitive topic so as to convey a message that Kashmir militancy can take a dreaded turn by the possible involvement of the Taliban,” a Srinagar based Journalist, Raashid Maqbool said, adding “New Delhi plans to include Kashmir in the ‘war against terror’ agenda.”

Meanwhile, by the decade long ceasefire, the villagers living near the LoC from both the sides had a sigh of relief because they had not only started working in their fields but also started living peaceful lives.

The 2003 ceasefire completely changed the lives of those living near the ‘bloody line’ as it is called by the separatist camp.

Shelling from Pakistan had triggered civilian migration from the villages located near the LoC. “We had entirely a new life when we started farming on our ancestral fields after a long time,” said Shahid Khan, a Rajouri resident who works as a school peon.

“The ceasefire agreement between India and Pakistan changed us completely, we would not move around freely even during the day but after the ceasefire, the situation for us changed,” Irshad Hussain, a resident of Churanda, Uri told Kashmir Life.

Churanda was in news during the mid this year when civilian deaths were reported from the barbed village. The civilians had come in between the cross firing of Indian and Pakistani troops.

The ceasefire was frequently violated on the LoC and IB from August 2013, resulting in the fresh tension not only between the two nuclear neighbours but also for the common masses living near the LoC and IB whose children had started their proper schooling only ten years ago. The inhabitants of Churanda and Suchetgarh were among the hundreds of people who left their homes in August this year once again to save their lives, affecting again the schooling of their kids and health of their elders.

The People of the Suchetgarh Kullian village, situated 400 metres from the IB in Samba district, had to leave their homes and take shelter in a community hall because the rival Armies had mobilized their amours in the area though the ceasefire agreement of 2003 was in place.

Troopers patrolling the Loc -- Photo: Bilal Bahadur

Troopers patrolling the Loc — Photo: Bilal Bahadur

“Suchetgarh Kullian villagers, including women and children, had taken shelter in a community hall in Kali Bari near the railway station. There were around 100 women and children at the community hall,” an official of the district administration said after Indian and Pakistani troops exchanged heavy firing in the area during the month of September.

There are around 70 houses in the village and except for some men taking care of the houses, all other residents had left the village due to fear of becoming targets of cross firing between India and Pakistan.

But the 2003 ceasefire though violated very frequently, is still working as a big hope for the people living near the LoC and IB.

For them, the cross border firing remained a routine affair until the 2003 ceasefire agreement. The hopes finally survived when Indian and Pakistani Premiers met in the US to announce ‘calm’ on the LoC and honouring of the ceasefire agreement.

Directors General of Military Operations (DGMOs) of India and Pakistan met on the no man’s land in Wagah after 14 years on December 24. The decision in this regard was taken by Manmohan Singh and Nawaz Sharief when they met in the US earlier in the year amidst high tension along the LoC and IB.

Both the sides decided to “re-energize” existing mechanisms to maintain truce on the LoC, months after bilateral ties nosedived over the killing of many soldiers from both sides.

A joint statement later said the DGMOs “agreed to re-energize the existing mechanisms” to maintain the ceasefire on the LoC.

India first fenced and installed flood-lights on 461 KMs of Punjab’s border with Pakistan from 1988 to 1993. The 1,048 km Rajasthan- Pakistan border was fenced and floodlit by 1999.

According to sources India has also sanctioned Construction of 340 Km of border roads and 137 Km of link roads along Pakistan border in Gujarat sector, of which 294 Km of border roads and 136 Km of link roads have been completed.

Challenges remained on the controversial Line of Control in Jammu and Kashmir and the unfenced 93 Km of Rann of Kutch in Gujarat.

BSF proposed shifting of 23.380 Km of fencing closer to the border in certain stretches of Ferozepur sector in Punjab due to the problems being faced by the farmers in cultivating their lands. The work commenced during 2007-08. A total length of 462.45 Km and 461 Km had been fenced and floodlit respectively by 2008 in the entire Punjab sector, except some gaps in some areas.

In the Rajasthan sector also, the work of construction of fencing and flood lighting in 1048 Km and 1023 Km respectively had been completed except certain shifting sand dune areas.

In the Jammu sector, the work of floodlighting of 185 Km of border fencing has been completed.

Defence sources said that with the sealing of Punjab and Rajasthan borders, the vulnerability of Gujarat border to infiltration and other illegal cross-border activities increased. Therefore, the Government approved a comprehensive proposal for erecting fencing, floodlighting and construction of border/link roads and Border Out-Posts for Border Security Force in the Gujarat sector of the Indo-Pak border.

As of 2008, 217 Km of fencing and 202 Km of floodlighting was completed in the Gujarat sector out of 310 Km sanctioned.

By June 2012 the Indian Army wanted to commence repair work on the three-tier fencing of LoC after the smoothly conducted commander-level talks between India and Pakistan held in Poonch sector. The Brigade commanders meet was to discuss various issues after ceasefire violations and to allow repair work on the damaged border fence.

Pakistan had earlier objected to the fresh construction with regard to LoC fencing but eventually allowed the Indian Army to go ahead with repair work. Due to heavy snowfall, various stretches of the fencing had been washed away and the Army needed re-constructions in those sections.

The brigade commander-level meeting took place on June 23, 2007 to discuss border fencing repair work, LoC trade, ceasefire violations and other issues.

The people living along the LoC are in fact the first victims of the tension between New Delhi and Islamabad.

They had to leave their homes in 1971 and 1965 as well when Indian and Pakistan were engaged in wars. Villagers often narrate their vows saying cross LoC shelling always damages their houses and they had no other option than to migrate to safer locations.

India and Pakistan signed a historic bilateral ceasefire agreement in November 2003. As guns of the two armies and paramilitary forces guarding the LoC and the IB fell silent following the ceasefire agreement, a degree of peace and normalcy had returned to the lives of thousands of people living close to the borders. After 10 years, this comfort of harmony for these people appeared to be vanishing during 2013 summer because of frequent skirmishes along the borderline in Jammu and Kashmir.

Frequent violations of the ceasefire and the rivalries between the two armies notwithstanding, the agreement that Atal Behari Vajpayee and Musharraf managed in 2003 had undoubtedly led to an exceptional shift in the lives of the people with a leg on each side of the LoC.

Kashmir LoC

Kashmir LoC

Kashmir’s border belts were actively participating in the socio-economic activities till early this year as the silence of guns had encouraged schooling and better healthcare.

But now, a new tension has emerged for the people living near the LoC due to the Indian plan of erecting a ‘Great wall’ on the borderline.

 The plan has also created political chaos, as well as the separatists, see the plan as “an act to imprison the J&K people in a larger jail”.

According to the plan, the “security wall” being erected to keep infiltrators out, will be higher and wider than both the Berlin Wall and the serpentine barrier that Tel Aviv is creating. It will be 135 feet wide and pass through 118 villages in the districts of Jammu, Kathua and Samba.

“Erecting a permanent fence may quite the borders temporarily but the permanent divide will not translate into any political bonus for the two countries because the people of Jammu and Kashmir see no measures taken in this regard,” an independent lawmaker, Er Rasheed said.

Many analysts see the meeting of DGMs as a measure development in the way of building the ‘great wall’ along IB.

“India in 2003 managed to get the support of Musharraf in order to visualize the LoC and now New Delhi has succeeded in agreeing with Pakistan “re-energize the existing mechanism” is a clear indication that we may see the wall on IB in near future,” Shawkat Hamid, a Political Science teacher at college level told Kashmir Life.

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