Poonch/Bhimber Gali (J&K): The ongoing ceasefire between India and Pakistan along the Line of Control (LoC) in Jammu and Kashmir, which began on 25 February this year, has made life easier for both civilians and the Army.
For civilians living along the LoC, the silence of the guns means that they can live a normal, ordinary life, like people in other parts of the country — take a carefree walk on the freshly-laid roads without having to worry about being hit by a bullet or mortar shells, sleep under the open sky. Children can attend school without interruption.
For the Army, both in India and Pakistan, meanwhile, the period of peace allows them to stock up, regroup and fortify, before the ceasefire is violated.
It is also a time for officers to walk or drive through areas they could not approach before as they would come under directed fire.
This period of peace also gives the civil administration an opportunity to quickly build community bunkers, carry out door-to-door Covid vaccination drives and provide basic infrastructure like electricity and roads.
Despite the ceasefire, however, the soldiers remain on alert 24×7 with no let-up in patrolling, counter-infiltration tactics, laying of ambushes, and surveillance activities.
On a visit to the forward-most villages and Army posts along the LoC in the Bhimber Gali and Poonch sector in Jammu and Kashmir, ThePrint interacted with the villagers and soldiers, to get a firsthand understanding of the situation.
Villagers hope for continued peace
“This peace is a blessing for us. A few months back, we would not be standing here and talking,” Mohammed Arif Khan, sarpanch of one of the villages right next to the LoC, told ThePrint.
Standing next to a school in Dharati village, Khan said Pakistan frequently targeted the civilians and shells fired from mortars have fallen in the very same area where he was standing. “I just hope this peace prevails. I am thankful to whoever made this happen,” he said.
Yunus, a resident of Kanga village next to the LoC, was thankful for the new roads laid only during the ceasefire, making life easier for the villagers.
“Had guns not fallen silent, the road construction could not have happened. They had targeted a JCB (earthmover machine) earlier, which resulted in a young boy losing his leg. Thankfully, the Army has provided him with a prosthetic leg,” he said.
Sajid, a 11-year-old boy from one of the villages that have borne the brunt of the ceasefire violations by Pakistan in the past, said he can now play in the open and not run for cover when the “bombs” start falling.
Meanwhile, a young girl from another village, who wants to become an “officer” when she grows up, said attending schools would be an issue as Pakistan even targeted schools. “We have a bunker right next to my class. We had to rush in every time Pakistan fired,” she recalled.
Classes are being held at present with schools following all Covid-19 precautions.
For residents of Kosaliyan village, no firing means one can live a normal life like everyone else.
“Earlier, fear was our constant companion. One never knew when a shell would land near us or hit our vehicles. We can now live peacefully just like you do,” said Honorary Captain Mohammed Sadiq (Retd), a Shaurya Chakra awardee and sarpanch of the village.
People in his village are mostly labourers, and often employed by the Army as porters.
In January 2020, Pakistani forces crossed over to the Indian side of the LoC and ambushed a group of 10 porters who were carrying ration items to an Army post.
“They chopped off the head of one and took it away with them while shooting another (in the leg). The boy’s leg had to be amputated. With the ceasefire on, we are living our life thinking no barbarity will be inflicted on us,” he said.
The veteran said there have been days when the Pakistani army fired hundreds of mortar shells, with many directed at the villages.
For residents of Datot village, the ceasefire has meant that the power department could bring in wires, transformers and spares to ensure that electricity is restored in the village.
“The village has been out of electricity for several years as supply was damaged in ceasefire violation. However, new transformers or spares could not come because vehicles would be targeted by Pakistan,” Mohammed Gulshan Khan, a sarpanch of another village said about Datot.
Soldiers get a breather
For the soldiers deployed along the LoC, the ceasefire has meant they can breathe a little easy. They have, however, not let their guards down since anti-infiltration tactics and surveillance is constantly on.
“The only difference for us is that there is no firing. We continue to do all the rest just like it was before. So we continue with our constant surveillance, laying of ambushes as part of a counter-infiltration grid among many others,” said a source posted in the area.
Asked how the Pakistan Army was utilising this ceasefire period, the source explained that they have been seen fortifying their bunkers that were destroyed or hit by Indian troops.
Asked if India was also not fortifying its own positions and stocking up, the officer said both armies are doing it.
While Indian soldiers are visiting areas within their own territory, which they otherwise would not because of sniper attacks, the Pakistanis are also doing the same.
“The only difference is that we now see many Pakistani soldiers in uniform than before, as they would earlier wear a civilian dress and move around,” another source said.
Asked how long one expects the ceasefire to continue, another source said: “The last time when India and Pakistan attempted a ceasefire was in 2018 and it lasted for four months. We are making sure from our end that there are no ceasefire violations. The violation will come from Pakistan first.”
All posts, big or small, along the LoC are designed in such a way that minimal impact is caused to the soldiers inside.
The biggest casualty factor along the LoC is splinters and sniping.
(Edited by Poulomi Banerjee)