For the first time in recent times, exchange of fire between troops on both sides of the Line of Control and the International Border (IB) in Jammu and Kashmir saw India expressing anxiety over Pakistan using missiles to target its military posts. On February 4, the army said its western neighbour initiated unprovoked and indiscriminate firing of small arms, mortars and missiles in Rajouri area’s Bimbar Gali sector, killing four uniformed men. It also spoke of giving a “befitting response”.
Tension gripped the LoC in Rajouri and Poonch sectors along Samba, Arina and Kathua sectors of IB in Jammu, as ceasefire violations from across the border increased, forcing civilians to move to safer places. Some 85 schools in the two sectors were closed. According to locals, the villagers living close to the LoC in Rajouri are moving towards safer places, fearing a rise in shooting and shelling.
The army says Pakistan had that Sunday used missiles to target the army post, which killed a captain, two riflemen and a havildar. The Pakistan army, it says, fired “five or six anti-tank guided missiles”, one of which hit the bunker that had the four Indians. Overall, the Pakistani army has thus taken the escalation level to a “new high”, it claims, but won’t elaborate on the new weaponry—beyond calling it “small-range missiles having the potential to destroy bunkers and everything inside”. A senior army official describes the missile as the small anti-tank guided missile. “Please don’t confuse it with big missiles. But it is serious, very serious,” he says.
It is not just in Jammu sector that ceasefire violation takes place, according to the army. The LoC along the Kashmir Valley is not calm either. “Ceasefire violation goes against our 2003 agreement,” points out a senior army official. “Even if they fire a bullet, it is violation. We see it regularly during infiltration bids.”
The army says they deal with counter-infiltration and ceasefire violations along the LoC in the Valley, besides counter-insurgency operations on its hinterland. This year, the situation in Jammu has worsened along the LoC and the IB. Since January 12, security personnel, including nine army men, were killed in exchanges of fire. Ceasefire violations killed eight civilians in Jammu. In Nowshera alone, 963 families have been staying in camps for the past four months, as recurrent shelling had made it difficult for them to move back to the villages, which are close to the LoC. Usually in Nowshera, people stay for a few days in the camps and then move back to their villages according to the situation, points out Jammu divisional commissioner Hemant Sharma.
Fearing further escalation, the J&K government is calling for restraint and reconciliation. “Dialogue and reconciliation are the only way to restore peace,” state minister for parliamentary affairs Abdul Rehman Veeri told the House. Opposition leader Omar Abdullah of the National Conference wanted the assembly to adopt a resolution that urged J&K people to demand both the governments to initiate a dialogue.
Omar’s proposal has divided the coalition government. The PDP wants to support it, but the ruling party’s coalition partner BJP is not in a mood to adopt it (fearing reprisal for the party beyond J&K). Some BJP legislators sought to pass a “condemnation resolution” against Pakistan for abetting ceasefire violations on the borders, but got little support for it even within the party.
The roof of a Nowshera house after a February 6 Pak shelling
Omar asks for strict implementation of the 2003 ceasefire, seeking restoration of the pact between the A.B. Vajpayee government in consultation with Islamabad.
While the J&K government is for reconciliation, the mood west of the LoC is changing. On February 4, when Srinagar was calling for a dialogue, Pakistan Prime Minister Shahid Khaqan Abbasi insisted continuance of his country’s “diplomatic, moral and political support” to the “just cause of Kashmiris”. In his address to the special joint sitting of the Pakistan-Occupied JK legislative assembly and the AJK Council on Kashmir Solidarity Day, he said Pakistan has never felt that it and Kashmir are two separate entities. The hearts of the people of Pakistan and Kashmir “throb together”.
The February 5 Kashmir Solidarity Day (or Kashmir Day) is a national holiday in Pakistan, where the government, the Opposition and others reiterate their support for the “Kashmir cause”. This time, Pakistan’s deposed prime minister Nawaz Sharif’s daughter Maryam Nawaz said in Muzaffarabad that her “heart bleeds for the people of Kashmir”. Also, that she was positive that there will come a day when Kashmir will gain “independence from slavery.” Maryam called herself a Kashmiri and shouted a slogan that “Kashmir will become Pakistan”.
While Nawaz stuck a moderate tone in his speech that significantly didn’t refer Kashmir much except saying that the judiciary ruined his plans to develop Kashmir (PoK), he said his sympathy lay with the “brave people of the Valley, who are struggling for the right to self-determination.” Effectively, he left Maryam to do the Kashmir talk.
Incidentally, the day didn’t invoke any response in the Valley. Among the separatists, moderate leader Mirwaiz Umar Farooq urges India and Pakistan to engage in a dialogue, arguing that a military approach will not help. “Even pro-India parties like NC and PDP are asking for a political solution,” he adds.
In the Valley, there is growing concern over the sustained exchange of fire along the LoC. Civil society groups state they are deeply distressed at the emerging situation in Jammu and Kashmir.
“J&K is a witness to and a victim of Indo-Pak wars and unabated militarised violence for last many decades. From the experiences of sufferings, the people of J&K are very conscious of how these irresponsible statements can escalate into a full-blown war between the two nuclear powers and lead to terrible brutalisation, primarily of the J&K people and also the soldiers from both sides who have become cheap cannon fodder,” according to a statement by the civil society led by human rights activist Khurram Parvez.
“We appeal to the civil society groups of India, Pakistan and the world at large to not remain silent in this situation.... The silence of those who believe in dialogue, peace and justice will only embolden the vested interests that are keen on escalating tensions between the two countries.” The statement invited public criticism.
For J&K government dialogue is the only route. The state government says there is no substitute to dialogue. “We have been living in a conflict area and we know what it is,” says spokesman Naeem Akhtar. “Our views at least must be taken on-board.” He notes that the erstwhile Vajpayee regime’s political outreach in 2002 had changed Kashmir for long. “When these methods are withdrawn, there will be a rise in violence.”
Akhtar says there is some satisfaction in a general acceptance within the country and across the political divide that Kashmir has to be dealt politically, softly. “The appointment of a special representative to Kashmir (Dineshwar Sharma) is indicative of that,” he says. India and Pakistan have to adopt the same approach. “India cannot do it unilaterally.
By Naseer Ganai in Srinagar