Through the serpentine Himalayan roads, the descent into Pirpanjal Valley, comprising the twin border districts Poonch and Rajouri, is rough and bumpy. But the life in these towns exudes peace. Line of Control is more contagious in the Poonch district but people here enjoy the fruits of peace.
“Before Feb 25 ceasefire agreement, the agriculture land closer to the LoC was difficult to cultivate. The farmers were not able to tend their lands or graze their cattle because cross-LoC shelling was a routine process and we only bothered about our safety,” recalled Ghulam Sarwar, a resident of Chakanda Bagh, the last village closer to the LoC, where a contact point for Cross LoC trade exchanges was constructed in 2008.
“After the ceasefire agreement came into effect,” Sarwar adds, “we feel born again.”
“People here have dreams and aspirations. They are happy now though the fear of violence erupting again across the Line of Control is still lurking.”
Unlike the Jammu division’s other districts or Kashmir Valley, the pandemic has not dangerously affected Poonch or Rajouri. “There are scores of schools in Rajouri closer to the LoC. Students carry on with their studies. The studies are affected when the clashes happen along the border. But the ceasefire has given us another lease of life and education to our children,” says a teacher, in the Rajouri Thanna Mandi area.
2020 saw 5,100 incidents of ceasefire violations which are the all-time high in the past 17 years that killed 36 people and wounded 130 others. The cease-fire violations lead to the closure of schools and people moved to safer places leaving their houses.
“The areas most affected by ceasefire violations are Poonch and Rajouri. And since this year’s ceasefire agreement we have seen peace along the LoC and it has brought great relief to people. Hope it sustains,” says Shafiq Mir, Thanamandi based president of chairman All J & k Panchayat Conference.
On Feb 25, the DGsMO of India and Pakistan issued a joint statement that said, “In the interest of achieving mutually beneficial and sustainable peace along the borders, the two DGsMO agreed to address each other’s core issues and concerns which have the propensity to disturb the peace and lead to violence. Both sides agreed for strict observance of all agreements, understandings and cease firing along the Line of Control and all other sectors with effect from midnight February 24-25 Feb 2021.”
This is the first time since the 2003 ceasefire agreement between India and Pakistan that the LoC is calm and peaceful. According to the Army sources this year not a single ceasefire violation has been reported along the LoC or the International Border after the reaffirmation of the ceasefire agreement. Up to Feb 24 from January 2021, otherwise, the Indian army says, 740 ceasefire violations were recorded from the Pakistani side. Thus, the situation seems more comfortable than 2004 along the LoC.
In 2004, there had been only one ceasefire violation.
In subsequent years the LoC saw an increase and decrease in the ceasefire violations like in 2007 there were 21 ceasefire violations; in 2008 77 such violations were reported but 2009 saw a dip again with 28 ceasefire violations. In 2010, 44 ceasefire violations were reported. In 2013, 199 incidents of ceasefire violations were recorded.
There was a slight dip in the ceasefire violations when the NDA came into power in 2014. That year saw 153 ceasefire violations. 2015 remained at 152. From 2016, there was an abrupt increase with 228 violations in 2016, 860 in 2017, 1,629 in 2018.
In 2019 over 3,200 instances or an average of nine ceasefire violations were reported daily. Of these, 1,565 ceasefire violations took place since August 2019, after the BJP government abrogated Article 370 and bifurcated the erstwhile state of Jammu and Kashmir into two union territories amid communication blockade, siege and arrests of over 8000 people including three former chief ministers. But
“There has been peace this year along the LoC and no doubt it is a great sign. We are able to do our work without having to think whether it is safe to move out or not,” says Dr Sajad Shafi, NC leader from the Uri area in Baramulla.
However, says now that the LoC is peaceful both the Cross LoC trade and Cross-LoC travel should be resumed.
On April 9, 2019, India suspended cross LoC trade on grounds that the trade routes were being misused for funneling illegal weapons, narcotics, and fake currency. “During the ongoing investigations of certain cases by NIA, it has been brought out that a significant number of trading concerns engaged in LoC trade are being operated by persons closely associated with banned terrorist organizations involved in fuelling terrorism/separatism. Investigations have further revealed that some individuals, who have crossed over to Pakistan, and joined militant organisations, have opened trading firms in Pakistan. These trading firms are under the control of militant organisations and are engaged in LoC trade,” a press released circulated that time by the Ministry of Home had said
The two steps, the cross LoC bus service, and the Cross LoC trade were seen two biggest CMBs between India and Pakistan. However, their suspension in April 2019 was seen as a regressive move and many believe it was linked with the government’s decision to abrogate Article 370 and 35A five months later on August 5, 2019.
On April 7, 2005, the then prime minister, Dr Manmohan Singh had flagged off the first cross-LoC bus service— titled Karwaan-e-Aman, or peace caravan— that connected Srinagar to Muzaffarabad. Later, the Cross-LoC trade, established as a barter trade, began on October 21, 2008, across two routes— Salamabad (Uri) -Muzaffarabad and Poonch-Rawalakot. Traders on either side of the LoC were permitted to exchange 21 mutually-agreed items.
The government despite the suspension of the trade on April 9, 2019, didn’t stop work on a truck scanner at Salamabad, which has kept hope that the cross-LoC trade is not permanently shut.
“The opening of Cross-LoC trade and the travel will strengthen peace along the LoC further. We hope the peace along the LoC sustains for decades to come,” says Dr Sajad Shafi.