Sorry Amit Shah, your own government’s figures give the lie to your claims on safety in Kashmir

BJP president Amit Shah on Monday claimed that“Kashmir has never been so safe in the last 35 years”. In fact, border residents never felt as insecure in the past 13 years as they do now after Sep 2016

Photo by Nitin Kanotra/Hindustan Times via Getty Images)
Photo by Nitin Kanotra/Hindustan Times via Getty Images)
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Ashutosh Sharma

On Sunday a 22-year-old Army Captain and three soldiers were killed and four persons including two soldiers and two children injured in shelling along the Line of Control (LoC) in Jammu and Kashmir. On Monday, BJP president Amit Shah in his maiden speech in the Rajya Sabha claimed: “After the surgical strikes, India showed to the world that after the United States and Israel, India is the only country that can go to any extent to protect its armed forces and its people.”

In his near 77-minute speech, he told Rajya Sabha that “Kashmir has never been so safe in the last 35 years. We handled the Kashmir issue very well.”

Reacting to the truce violation, Home Minister Rajnath Singh said: “There is a Hindi saying in Bihar 'latkhor' (addicted to being beaten), and similarly Pakistan is 'latkhor' and thus proper reply would be given to them.” His party's IT cell head Amit Malviya went a step ahead and posted on Twitter: “The Indian Army killed 138 Pakistan Army personnel in 2017 in tactical operations and retaliatory cross border firings along LoC as against 28 of Indian Army soldiers, who lost their lives. Whole jaw for a tooth! I am sure Rajouri will be avenged at the time of Army's choosing...”

There has been a 230% increase in ceasefire violations along the LoC in 2017 as compared to 2016, the government informed the Lok Sabha in December last year

The claims of Shah, Singh and Malviya, however, seemed just too far off the explosive reality on the ground, if official figures regarding number of ceasefire violations and resultant deaths are anything to go by. In fact, border residents never felt as insecure in the past 13 years—when the Ceasefire Agreement between India and Pakistan came into force from midnight of 25 November 2013—as they feel now after the September 2016 surgical strikes. Obviously, “a bullet for a bullet and a shell for a shell” approach is likely to create more mayhem, leading to more bloodshed on the 734-km stretch on LoC and approximately the 190-km-long International Border (IB).

Ceasefire violations after the surgical strikes have clearly resulted into more deaths, disabilities, destruction and panic migrations by border residents. This year has just begun but since January 18, the death toll in ceasefire violations by Pakistan has already gone up to 18, as 14 persons including eight civilians and six security personnel were killed in Pakistan firing between January 18 and 22 in the Jammu region alone. Over 60 people have reportedly been injured and dozens of homes damaged and burnt down in the ongoing cross-border fire. Hundreds of border residents have fled homes leaving behind cattle and crops unattended.

This was for the second time in less than one-and-a-half months that Army has suffered four casualties in a single incident of ceasefire violation. On December 23 last year, an Army Major and three soldiers were killed in Keri sector of Rajouri district.

This year has just begun but since January 18, the death toll in ceasefire violations by Pakistan has already gone up to 18, as 14 persons including eight civilians and six security personnel were killed in Pakistan firing between January 18 and 22 in the Jammu region alone

There has been a 230% increase in ceasefire violations along the LoC in 2017 as compared to 2016, the government informed the Lok Sabha in December last year.

As many as 97 people, including 41 civilians, were killed and 383 others injured in 834 ceasefire violations by the Pakistani troops in the last three years, the Jammu and Kashmir Government said on Monday.

In a written reply to a question by a PDP MLC in the J&K Legislative Council today, Chief Minister Mehbooba Mufti said that 379 ceasefire violations took place along the LoC and IB last year, while 233 violations took place in 2016 and 222 in 2015.

Mufti said that out of the 41 civilians killed in the last three years, 12 were killed in 2017, 13 in 2016 and 16 in 2015. As many as 383 people were injured, including 233 civilians, in the ceasefire violations. Mufti said 79 civilians were injured in 2017, 83 in 2016 and 71 in 2015. The chief minister said that 31 security forces personnel were killed in 2017, 16 in 2016 and 9 in 2015, out of a total of 56 killed in last three years. Of the 150 security forces personnel injured from 2015 to 2017, the chief minister said that 62 were injured in 2017, 74 in 2016 and 14 in 2015.

Ironically, the number of truce violations reported by the state government don’t match the data released by the Union Home Ministry last year. The J&K government seems to have downplayed the figures of Union Home Ministry considerably. But away from the contradictory claims over data, border villages have already been facing a war-like situation, according to local media reports. Notably, the BSF and Pakistan Rangers—that have traditionally been sharing sweets on the occasion of Republic Day, Independence Day, Diwali, Eid and other festivals—did not follow the ritual this Republic Day over ceasefire violations.

“Due to a surge in border hostilities, border residents are living under constant threat and perpetual fear,” says former Minister and JKPCC general secretary Manjit Singh. “During poll campaigns, BJP had announced plots for each family living on the IB. But even after coming to power in the state and centre, the party hasn’t fulfilled the promise.” Ironically, successive governments have failed to provide even basic amenities to border residents, who frequently find themselves trapped between two hostile militaries. Funds made available by the Union Home Ministry under the Border Area Development Programme show dismal results. The ever growing militarisation of border areas after the Kargil war has only made the life of local residents—mostly farmers—miserable.

Schools within five kilometres of the LoC and IB in Jammu province have been closed for the second time this year. The authorities in Rajouri district ordered closure of all 84 schools at the LoC from Sunder Bani to Manjakote for the next three days in view of ceasefire violations by Pakistan army. In January, schools along the IB and the LoC in five districts—Jammu, Samba, Kathua, Rajouri and Poonch—were closed for over a fortnight because of heavy exchange of fire.

“Due to a surge in border hostilities, border residents are living under constant threat and perpetual fear,” says former Minister and JKPCC general secretary Manjit Singh

The Jammu and Kashmir Assembly was adjourned on Monday after opposition legislators created a ruckus over continuing ceasefire violations by Pakistan. The National Conference (NC) and Congress members stormed towards the Speaker's podium alleging that the PDP-BJP government has failed to protect the lives and properties of border residents.

Former Jammu and Kashmir chief minister Omar Abdullah has already said that the shelling and violence on the IB and LoC must end and both the countries should normalise, what is otherwise an “abnormal” relationship.

Stressing that the state's people had immensely suffered due to violence in the past 30 years, Chief Minister Mehbooba Mufti in the recent past has repeatedly urged India and Pakistan to end acrimony. Speaking at a public function later last month, she said: “When we should be providing them (border residents) with good schools, hospitals and other amenities of modern life, the demand from border areas comes for the construction of bunkers. This situation has to change. The pain and agony of Jammu and Kashmir's people should be heard.”

But the question remains, is anyone in the BJP-led NDA government listening?

With inputs from PTI

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Published: 05 Feb 2018, 8:59 PM