Ceasefire violations: On both sides of LoC, residents cry for peace
While protests have been reported from across the LoC, the Jammu and Kashmir Chief Minister has demanded restoration of the truce agreement after five persons were killed in Poonch on Sunday
Amid heightened border tensions in Jammu and Kashmir, the residents on either side of the Line of Control (LoC)—a de-facto border that divides the state between India and Pakistan—have urged both the countries to restore peace in the region.
While the border dispute between the two countries remains unaddressed, the civilians living in border areas time and again find themselves caught in the line of fire between two hostile militaries. Ironically, both the countries invariably accuse the other of initiating border skirmishes resulting in the deaths of soldiers and civilians.
A day after five members of a family were killed in shell explosions in Balakote sector of Poonch on Sunday morning, Jammu and Kashmir Chief Minister Mehbooba Mufti said: “Border residents of Jammu and Kashmir are the ones paying the price of enmity and Partition between our nation and Pakistan. Our people are being killed on both the sides.”
A middle-aged couple and their three children were killed when two shells fired from across the border exploded in their mud house. Two other members of the family, Noureen Akhtar, aged 14, and Mehreen Akhtar, aged 6, are battling for their lives in a hospital. “We were having our morning tea when the mortar shells exploded in our kitchen and killed my parents and three brothers,” Mehreen told Jammu and Kashmir Works Minister and government spokesman Naeem Akhtar at the hospital.
“Every year, our people get killed and injured in border skirmishes. How long will we continue to live under the shadow of death and uncertainty? What have India and Pakistan achieved over all these years by shelling civilians on both the sides of the border? Either the government should rehabilitate us somewhere else or ensure us peace,” said a resident of a fenced-out village in Balakote sector. In 2015, at least seven villagers including sarpanch Karamat Hussain were killed when the area was heavily shelled by Pakistan on August 15.
Besides civilians, five soldiers were injured in Pakistani shelling in Balakote sector on Sunday.
“Ceasefire was the best gift India and Pakistan gave to the areas near the border and the LoC, but since the last few years, we are continuously seeing that it has remained confined to paper only. It is not being implemented. I request both New Delhi as well as Islamabad to please follow the ceasefire as part of the CBMs (confidence building measures),” former Chief Minister of Jammu and Kashmir and National Conference leader Omar Abdullah told media, reacting to the recent deaths due to truce violation.
Notably, Defence Minister Nirmala Sitharaman told Rajya Sabha on March 5 that as many as 209 incidents of ceasefire violations by Pakistan Army were reported along the LoC in January while the number was 142 in the first 12 days of February. If this trend continues, experts believe, then 2018 is likely to record the highest number of truce violations since the ceasefire agreement came into being in November 2003.
Claiming that the unusual escalation at the border has resulted in a high death toll in the recent years, BJP leader and former Union Minister, Yashwant Sinha, who along with members of the newly-created Group of Concerned Citizens recently visited several shelling-affected forward areas in Jammu province of the state, said in a report, “The casualties in January 2018 alone equalled the figures for entire 2017. And 2017 itself was an exceptional year for ceasefire violations, as it saw a six-fold increase from 2015.”
A total of 860 incidents of ceasefire violations by Pakistan were reported last year, according to Sitharaman.
The clamour for restoration of truce agreement is growing on the other side of the border as well. The local administration in Kotli district of Pakistan Occupied Kashmir didn’t allow permission for a demonstration against recent incidents of ceasefire violations.
“The life of the people living along the ceasefire line has been crippled by incessant shelling and firing. Not a single day goes by when there are no casualties in one or the other sector...,” an organiser from across the LoC was quoted by the Dawn.