Shelling weary border residents pin for guns to be silenced
15 June 2002
The Daily Excelsior
Mendhar: As Pakistan and India prepare the ground for further military de- escalation, over 80,000 people who have fled their homes to escape intense shellings during nights are keeping their fingers crossed praying that the peace this time lasts. There is hardly a family in the border towns of Poonch, Mendhar, Rajouri, Sunderbani, Akhnoor, Samba and Hiranagar untouched by the scars of shellings to which they have been mute wittnesses for the past six months. ''Over the years we have been used to intermittent shellings. But since the December trans-border mobilisation the intensity has been nerve wrecking'' said Wajidullah Rehman of Balakote, a village with a strange phenomenon of being divided into India and Pakistan occupied Kashmir by Jallas Nullah flowing right in the middle. Sardar Nasibullah, a 65-year-old maize farmer from the same village, who lost his elder brother in shelling said they hoped that the de-esclation being worked out was a lasting one. ''We have seen 13 years of violent hell here and now we pine for return of a long spell of peace and normalcy''. From the last hamlet on the Line of Control in Mendhar sector right to Palanwala where the nearly 740 kms long LoC tapers off, people want the big and small guns to go mute. People in Palanwala are no strangers to guns and tanks as many in this now almost ghost town are veterans of famous Pakistani armoured blitzkrieg of 1965 and 1971, but say would like a permanent solution to the dispute with Pakistan. ''Let us have a war and decide one way or the other'' said Hamir Chand an exservicemen and tea stall owner here. Nasibullah said entire 3,000 to 4,000 people of Balakote village had migrated and were living in cow sheds, godowns and local schools, with hardly any Governmental assistance. Narrating shame and woes they had experienced, some of the over 16,000 people of Akhnoor who have migrated to tented townships away from the border, said they did not know what to do. ''I have sent my children away and my husband and I take turns to stay at our small house in Palanwala where we have left back our livestock'', one of them Sita Devi said. According to figures provided by the Army 17,000 people have migrated from border villages in Rajouri with 13,000 of them yet to return. Of the 16,000 people who left their homes in Akhnoor, nearly 10,000 are yet to return mostly from Palanwala, Pargwal and other border villages near the International Border and the LoC, where still daily armed exchanges are taking place. Khonda, a small village near Palanwala, was a scene of tragic deaths when on June 10 a shell landed in a school where a teacher was taking a class of three young girl students. ''I was teaching them, when we heard a loud thud and a mortar shell landed in the nearby water plastic bucket and the sharpnels instantly killed three young students besides injuring me'' Shakuntla Devi, the teacher narrated. Satinder Sharma, headman of Jallas village near Mendhar said Pakistani shelling was the heaviest on June 10, when between 6.30 PM and 8 PM almost 1,500 rounds of 82 mm mortars rained on the hamlet killing his two relatives. The tale of woe of the border villagers is the same everywhere, in Samba, Hiranagar and Kathua areas of the Jammu division facing the International Border, where about 26,000 people have fled their homes and are yet to return. Another 17,000 to 19,000 people have fled the Poonch town, which is overlooked by vantage heights occupied by Pakistani troops and the residents complain of living in fear as Pakistani heavy guns open up just after the dark. ''Normally in summers evenings used to be the most pleasant. But now we dread the sundown, as it brings with it a daily rain of mortar shells'', Mohd Rafiq, a resident said. The group of newsmen including foreign journalists who visited the area had a first hand experience of trans-border shelling. While, returning from the forward most post on the LoC, the convoy saw some mortar shells falling nearby and had to scurry for safety. Later near the Palanwala town in the plains, the journalists could hear frequent small arms fire exchange. And this more than anything brought home to them, the point repteadly stressed by the border resident, their prayers for a lasting peace and an end to menace of militancy.