Fear and de­spair in Kash­mir as In­dia-Pak­istan talks fal­ter


In­dia and Pak­istan aborted rare talks this week­end un­der a cloud of re­crim­i­na­tions, while on the front line of their fes­ter­ing con­flict in Kash­mir, vil­lagers cow­er­ing from ar­tillery in mud huts de­spair of ever see­ing last­ing peace.

Pak­istan’s Na­tional Se­cu­rity Ad­viser Sar­taj Aziz called off a trip to New Delhi for a planned “ice-break­ing” meet­ing on Sun­day with his In­dian coun­ter­part Ajit Do­val at the last minute amid a row over the agenda for the talks.

The can­cel­la­tion dashed hopes of any im­mi­nent break­through in the nu­clear-armed neigh­bors’ long-fraught re­la­tions.

Shelling across the de facto bor­der, known as the Line of Con­trol (LoC) in dis­puted Kash­mir, has been on the rise this month, with sev­eral civil­ians killed.

The Hi­malayan re­gion has been di­vided be­tween In­dia and Pak­istan, but claimed in full by both, since the two coun­tries gained in­de­pen­dence from Bri­tain in 1947.

Nahra, in Pak­istan- ad­min­is­tered Kash­mir, just 400 me­ters from In­dian army po­si­tions, is one of the worst af­fected vil­lages, where lo­cals say they were hit by shells al­most ev­ery day last week.

With no proper bunkers in which to take cover from mor­tars, res­i­dents are forced to hide in their mud-brick houses.

Vil­lager Muham­mad Nazar, 53, de­scribed how his home was de­stroyed by an In­dian bar­rage last week.

“I had just put my chil­dren to bed, they were afraid to sleep, then the In­dian fir­ing started and the walls of my house came crash­ing down,” he told AFP.

“My chil­dren were scream­ing, I wrapped my arms around the chil­dren as we hid be­hind what was left of the walls.

“It ended early morn­ing and I took my fam­ily to a neigh­bor’s house where we live now — I

have nowhere else to go.”

Beau­ti­ful, Scarred

Nahra lies in Nakyal sec­tor, a col­lec­tion of half a dozen small vil­lages strung out across a lush green val­ley typ­i­cal of Kash­mir, a re­gion famed for its beauty but blighted by decades of con­flict.

Un­for­tu­nately for the lo­cals in Nakyal, the In­dian and Pak­istani troops oc­cupy the heights on ei­ther side of the val­ley, leav­ing the civil­ian pop­u­la­tion stuck in the mid­dle — and badly ex­posed.

Lo­cals said around 100 fam­i­lies had fled vil­lages to take cover in wooded ar­eas on nearby hill­sides.

Crops have been de­stroyed, schools forced to close for weeks and shops open only long enough for peo­ple to buy essen­tials.

Javed Bud­hanvi, a mem­ber of the Pak­istani Kash­mir par­lia­ment from Nakyal, said at least 15,000 peo­ple in around 10 vil­lages had been af­fected by re­cent In­dian fir­ing.

“Chil­dren are ter­ri­fied, they can’t go to school, they can’t step out of their homes to play and even in their homes they are not able to sleep be­cause of the fear of In­dian fir­ing,” he told AFP.

In­dia in­sists it is sim­ply re­turn­ing fire that Pak­istan has started.

“Pak­istani sol­diers have been fir­ing mor­tars and guns with­out any provo­ca­tion,” a de­fense source in In­dian- ad­min­is­tered Kash­mir told AFP.

“Our peo­ple in bor­der vil­lages have been suf­fer­ing as well.”

For­eign Min­is­ter Sushma Swaraj said Pak­istan was re­spon­si­ble for “91 cease-fire vi­o­la­tions” since the two coun­tries’ prime min­is­ters met at a re­gional sum­mit in Rus­sia last month.

Weary Pes­simism

That meet­ing, and In­dian Prime Min­is­ter Naren­dra Modi’s agree­ment to at­tend another re­gional sum­mit in Pak­istan next year, raised hopes of a break­through af­ter months of height­ened ten­sions.

Lit­tle of sub­stance was ex­pected but the very fact that Aziz and Do­val were to meet at all was seen as progress.

But the plan fal­tered at fa­mil­iar ob­sta­cles: Aziz’s in­ten­tion to meet Kash­miri lead­ers in New Delhi — an is­sue that scup­pered for­eign sec­re­tary-level talks last year — and In­dia’s in­sis­tence the agenda should fo­cus on ter­ror­ism.

Pak­istan’s fail­ure to hand over or pros­e­cute the al­leged mas­ter­minds of the 2008 Mum­bai at­tacks has in­fu­ri­ated In­dia, par­tic­u­larly when the sus­pected ring­leader, Zaki-ur-Rehman Lakhvi, was freed on bail.

Is­lam­abad, for its part, in­sists talks must be wide-rang­ing and in­clude thorny is­sues like Kash­mir.

The two sides ended up blam­ing each other for the col­lapse of the talks, while back on the front line, re­tired school­teacher Muham­mad Fa­rooq, 52, has only weary skep­ti­cism for the whole idea of talks.

“Pak­istan and In­dia have been ne­go­ti­at­ing since 1947 but what’s the re­sult?” he said.

(Left) Pak­istani Kash­miri girls look through a dam­aged wall hit by a mor­tar dur­ing cross bor­der shelling, in Nakyal Sec­tor, on the LoC in Pak­istan-ad­min­is­tered Kash­mir, Tues­day.


(Above) Pak­istani Kash­miri women re­act over the death of their brother who was killed in cross bor­der shelling, in Nakyal Sec­tor, on the heav­ily mil­i­tarised Line of Con­trol (LoC) in Pak­istan-ad­min­is­tered Kash­mir, Tues­day, Aug. 18.

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