New Delhi: Villages on both sides of the India-Pakistan border in Jammu & Kashmir have been advised to stay ready for “any eventuality”, local sources told ThePrint.
There has been an increase in shelling from Pakistan, including on civilian areas, over the past few days, amid fresh bilateral tensions in light of the 14 February Pulwama attack.
The terror attack, which killed 40 CRPF personnel, was claimed by the Pakistan-based Jaish-e-Mohammed (JeM).
According to a report in news agency PTI, Indian security personnel have “reacted strongly” to the shelling, which constitutes a violation of the 2003 ceasefire between India and Pakistan.
Amid the crossfire, occupants of border villages in the Rajouri district of Jammu province, especially in the Sunderbani-Nowshera sector, have been asked to stay on high alert.
Several schools in the area have been earmarked for conversion to makeshift camps in case the shelling and heavy gun fire from across the LoC don’t stop or become more frequent.
A security official told ThePrint that warnings to civilians on the Indian side were mainly aimed at preventing loss of lives in shelling, which is expected to intensify further.
“We have shared with them information about the camps that have been established in case inhabitants of these villages have to move out of their houses,” the official told ThePrint on the condition of anonymity.
“But, all these are precautionary measures that will become operational in case shelling from across the border increases,” the official added.
It was less than three years ago that villagers of the same region, along with the residents of border villages in Punjab, were evacuated in the thousands amid fears of a retaliatory attack by Pakistan in the wake of the September 2016 surgical strikes, when an Indian Army team crossed into POK and destroyed multiple terrorist launchpads.
In fact, villages in vulnerable areas are evacuated whenever tensions between the nations result in an exchange of fire at the border. In March 2018, several villagers were evacuated as shelling from Pakistan intensified — also resulting in civilian deaths — when the neighbours’ relationship hit another rocky patch over the alleged harassment of diplomats.
Meanwhile, sources told ThePrint that locals in Pakistan-occupied Kashmir (POK) have also been advised to “remain vigilant”.
According to available information, the district management authority of POK is said to have asked villagers living near the LoC to build bunkers if there aren’t any and avoid switching on “too many lights during night time and refrain from congregations”.
“Shepherds should also avoid taking their animals near the line of control for grazing,” one such order, accessed by ThePrint, says.
However, locals on the Indian side doubted that the preparations and orders spell a build-up to war or armed conflict.
“There is no movement of troops and guns that we last witnessed during Operation Parakram (after the Parliament attack of December 2001). But, yes, there is some panic,” said a local functionary in Nowshera.