24, Mar 2018 | CJP Team
In view of the rise in cross-border firing between India and Pakistan on the Line of Control (LoC) and the International Border (IB) in Jammu and Kashmir, the Concerned Citizens’ Group (CCG) decided to visit some of the affected areas. They also held discussions with prominent opinion makers in Jammu and in Srinagar. The primary rationale of the visit was the escalation of cross-border shelling which assumed a new intensity since the beginning of this year. These are their findings.
The cease-fire understanding reached between the two countries in 2003 was violated with impunity with small arms fire giving way to heavy mortar and finally, even artillery. The recent increase in cross-border shelling this year has led to a high death toll, with the casualties in January 2018 equaling the total number of casualties for all of 2017. In fact, 2017 itself saw six times more ceasefire violations compared to those in 2015. This trend has resulted in widespread collateral damage on both sides of the border. On the Indian side, more than 40,000 civilians required evacuation, with temporary camps being erected to house them. Moreover, education and livelihoods were disrupted, and homes, as well as water and electrical infrastructure were damaged.
The CCG travelled to the villages of Kapurpur, Bera, and Jeora Farm in Jammu (along the international border or IB), the village Ganiah on the LoC, as well as to Uri. They also met with people evacuated from some villages along the LoC in the Haji Pir area. The group attended a flag meeting between the Indian Border Security Force and Pakistan Rangers, and in Srinagar, met with Lt. General A. K. Bhatt, 15 Corps Commander, prominent members of the business and trade community, public intellectuals, and a member of the state’s Legislative Assembly.
The CCG’s report remarks that the “cross-border shelling has devastated lives,” noting that there are “no long term strategies” being formulated to help those affected by it. It adds that even short-term measures “seemed ad hoc and patchwork at best.” The residents of border villages seem to have turned “itinerant migrants in their own country – evacuating their homes periodically to live in makeshift camps with their livelihoods disturbed by the deaths of their family members, losing limbs and getting wounded, their homes and hearths destroyed by the shelling, their cattle killed and maimed, and their children’s education disrupted.”
According to the report, “the prevalent view” is that in most instances, villages suffer collateral damage from cross-border shelling, with the shelling aimed at both sides’ border posts. Mortar shells lack precision guidance and the ones going astray hit villages along the border or the LoC. However, the damage is still acute. In Bera, a young farmer was killed in his fields after being hit by a mortar shell. The CCG was also told that around 50 unexploded shells remained in and around homes because the state police’s Bomb Disposal Squad had not had the time to defuse and remove them. In Jeora Farm, which is just 100 metres away from the IB, more than 200 cattle have died due to shelling in the four days from January 19, to January 23, 2018. The loss of livestock, including cattle, goats, horses, and sheep, have been financially devastating for the Gujjar community living there.
The situation is “much worse” for villages along the LoC, as they have been subjected to “more frequent” cross-border shelling. They were subjected to “intermittent shelling” in March, May, June, July, August, and December 2017, and also saw intense shelling in January and February 2018. The CCG travelled to Nowshera, which makes up 68.5km of the LoC, where 23 of its 59 villages are adjacent to the LoC. Since 2016, 12 of these villages have acutely affected due to shelling.
Uri, which the report described as “peaceful for the last 8 to 10 years” has seen several ceasefire violations in 2018. Around eight villages, home to around 7,000 people have been impacted, with 1,500 people being evacuated. Almost half were placed in rehabilitation camps. The group met with several affected villagers from villages that had to be evacuated, in 1992, 1997, and again this year. According to the report, most villagers do not have any complaints against the army, “dependent as they are on it for employment,” as well as food and medical facilities. The army has obtained most of the villagers’ land to construct border posts, with the land along the LoC’s ‘zero line’ being mined to “prevent infiltration.” The villagers alleged that up until 2009 they received rent for this land, but have since not been paid.
Cross-border shelling has frequently resulted in the shuttering of schools in villages along the LoC and the International Border. Students frequently get trapped in schools, and have to then be rescued. Moreover, their education is frequently disrupted. Although temporary schools are operated in camps where evacuated villagers are placed, they are also negatively affected by the shelling. Students whose education is often interrupted then struggle to “compete with their peers who attend schools that run regularly”.
According to the report, the main demand that villagers living in the border region have is the resolution of cross-border shelling through a dialogue between India and Pakistan. Moreover, their immediate demands include the provision of land for housing in safe areas but “within commutable distance of their villages,” providing schools and hostels in safe locations, and supply additional cash assistance and relief, among others. The villagers are also seeking Actual Line of Control (ALC) certificates for those living villagers along the LoC so that they are able to access benefits. They have also called for the establishment of a “permanent institutional mechanism” with “designated teams” to assess the damaged caused by cross-border shelling.
The report decisively concluded that cross-border firing was “pointless,” a “sheer waste of resources” in which nobody wins. It stressed the need for India and Pakistan to begin dialogue once again, and join hands to revive the ceasefire.
The Group comprised Yashwant Sinha (former Finance and External Affairs Minister), Air Vice Marshal (Retd.) Kapil Kak, Sushobha Barve (Executive Secretary of Centre for Dialogue and Reconciliation) and Bharat Bhushan (Journalist).Wajahat Habibullah was unable to join due to pressing personal commitments. Yashwant Sinha was unable to accompany the group to Srinagar and Uri. The entire report may be read here.
Feature Image by PTI