Bullets over LoC: As India, Pakistani troops exchange fire, border residents have no place to go

It started early Monday morning in twin districts of Rajouri and Poonch in Jammu district.

Representational image. WP

Representational image. WP

By the end of the day, skirmishes along the Line of Control (LoC) had spread right up to Uri in north Kashmir, bringing back memories of early nineties for thousands of residents living on the edge along the tense border.

The firing started at 7:30 am and continued till 3:30 pm on Monday in Rajouri district. Before an eerie silence could return to a cluster of villages on the LoC, the lives of at least 5,000 people had been affected, many of them packing their bags.

Shah Begum, a resident of Panjgrain village in Rajouri district, who works as a cook in a Sarva Shiksha Abhiyan-funded school, was sleeping inside her home when a mortar shell fired from the Pakistani side hit the outer boundary, making a wide hole in the mud wall. Begum was hit by splinters, leaving her in critical conduction.

“Two people were injured from our village and referred to hospital,” Aleem Din, a resident of Panjgrain village said.

The district administration in Rajouri closed all schools as a precaution, and evacuated residents in the line of fire.

“It is a war-like situation,” Shahid Iqbal Choudhary, deputy commissioner of Rajouri, told Firstpost. “It been like this intermittently since 10 May. The situation is going from bad to worse."

Since then, 3,361 people have been relocated to six government buildings which turned in to refugee camps. Choudhary and his team have settled 839 families of Nowshera sector in these camps.

On Monday, when Firstpost spoke to him, the sound of shells landing in the hilly areas along the LoC could be heard in the background.

“We used to give people food. Then we started giving them raw material and firewood. Until now, we have procured Rs six lakh worth of firewood and Rs 20 lakh worth of rations and 120 fans,” he says.

The district administration recently started constructing hundred underground dwellings, when the bunkers promised by the Centre failed to spring up. These bunkers will accommodate eight to ten people and cost the state government Rs 2.40 lakh each. These bunkers will accommodate at least 1,000 people during shelling.

The Union government had promised to build over 20,000 concrete bunkers along the LoC and international border in Jammu and Kashmir for the safety of residents, but the plan is yet to take off.

Witnesses told Firstpost that the armies exchanged bullets and shells in many districts along the LoC. A defense spokesperson said Pakistan resorted to unprovoked targeting of the Indian positions on the LoC in Bhimber Gali sector of Jammu and Kashmir.

“The indiscriminate firing using small arms, automatic guns and mortar that began from 7.30 am is still on,” colonel Manish Mehta said.

However Pakistani newspapers, quoting Pakistan Inter-Services Public Relations (ISPR) said Sunday that it was the Indian forces who resorted to “unprovoked firing” and targeted a Pakistan Army vehicle across the LoC.

They said a vehicle at Athmaqam area across the LoC was fired upon, and plunged into Neelam River.

On Monday a 9-year-old girl, Saida, was killed when she was hit by a Pakistani shell in Balakote area of Poonch district. Mudassir Ahmed, an army soldier from Tral area of Pulwama district, was also killed in Tarkundi.

After heavy cross-border shelling, India and Pakistan Directors General of Military Operations (DGMOs) spoke over the hotline early Monday.

The Indian army said it reserved the right to retaliate appropriately violation of ceasefire but is sincere in its effort to maintain peace, provided there was reciprocity.

But what has surprised many is that the Indian Army is taking the battle to the Pakistani troops. Rajouri and Poonch have witnessed an escalation of ceasefire violations since the beginning of the year.

Interestingly, there have been attempts by militants to infiltrate from south of the Pir Panjal range, and there have been more than 60 ceasefire violations till April. The army has been taking preemptive action to prevent infiltration, which has led to an increase in the number of ceasefire violations in this area.

It is an unusual shift: Most infiltration bids used to happen from either Kupwara or Baramulla districts, which together share a good part of the treacherous 740-kilometre-long LoC that has witnessed major tensions following the beheading of two soldiers allegedly by Pakistan army's Border Action Team (BAT) on 1 May.

The LoC, senior army officials in Kashmir say, is likely to witness major escalation.

“Snow has already melted and infiltration attempts have seen an uptick. This will obviously get worse in coming months,” the officer said.

Updated Date: Jul 18, 2017 11:51 AM

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