Kashmiris flee, pre­pare bunkers, as In­dia-Pak­istan ten­sions rise

Mizzima Business Weekly - - CONTENTS -

Thousands of Kashmiris have fled their homes, some bailed wa­ter out of dis­used bunkers, while oth­ers dug in - de­ter­mined to see out the lat­est flare up of hos­til­i­ties be­tween In­dia and Pak­istan.

Shelling across the heav­ily mil­i­tarised Line of Control which di­vides Kashmir be­tween the two South Asian coun­tries sent many seek­ing shel­ter 27 Fe­bru­ary, even be­fore nu­clear-armed In­dia and Pak­istan both claimed they had shot each other's warplanes down, ig­nit­ing fears of an all-out con­flict.

Pak­istani of­fi­cials said four peo­ple were killed the day ear­lier by shelling from the In­dian side of the cease­fire line.

The death toll mounts on both sides each time sabre-rat­tling be­tween In­dia and Pak­istan turns into con­flict. This time, Kashmiris have watched warplanes fight­ing over­head and cow­ered un­der the shelling.

Call­ing for talks with In­dia to defuse the sit­u­a­tion, Pak­istan Prime Min­is­ter Im­ran Khan warned of the potentiall­y cat­a­strophic con­se­quences should "bet­ter sense" not pre­vail.

"Can we afford any mis­cal­cu­la­tion with the kind of weapons that we have and you have?" he said in a tele­vised state­ment.

While both sides have sought to play down the threat of war, the rare aerial en­gage­ment over the di­vided and dis­puted ter­ri­tory of Kashmir sig­nif­i­cantly raises the stakes in a standoff sparked by a sui­cide at­tack on the In­dian-con­trolled side ear­lier this month.

The in­ci­dents are the lat­est in a dan­ger­ous se­quence of events be­tween the two coun­tries, whose ties have been un­der in­tense strain since the Fe­bru­ary 14 sui­cide bomb­ing in In­dian Kashmir that killed 40 troops.

New Delhi had promised to act, and on 26 Fe­bru­ary its warplanes flew into Pak­istani airspace and struck what it said was a camp of Jaish-e-Mo­hammed (JeM), the militant group that claimed the Kashmir bomb­ing.

It was In­dia's first air strike on Pak­istani soil since the neigh­bours fought a war in 1971 -- when nei­ther had nu­clear weapons.

Vil­lagers flee

At least 2,000 peo­ple left their homes near the un­of­fi­cial bor­der in the Kotli and Jhelum Val­ley dis­tricts on the Pak­istani side, and au­thor­i­ties closed all pub­lic schools, said of­fi­cials. Other dis­tricts also saw an ex­o­dus.

"More peo­ple are leav­ing their homes and mov­ing to safer places," said Umar Azam, a se­nior gov­ern­ment of­fi­cial in Kotli. In­ter­net was also cut in some zones near the fron­tier -- of­ten a sign of mil­i­tary ac­tiv­ity.

Women, men and chil­dren, loaded with cases and bags, could be seen on roads. Some pulled cat­tle or car­ried other an­i­mals.

Habib Ul­lah Awan, a 46-year-old grocery store owner in the nearby bor­der vil­lage of Chakothi said shells were still fall­ing when he left his home with eight members of his fam­ily early 27 Fe­bru­ary.

"My house was not safe be­cause of the shelling, God for­bid, noth­ing will be left if a shell hits my house," he told AFP.

Most peo­ple leav­ing Chakothi went to Muzaf­farabad, the main city in Pak­istani Kashmir, or to stay with rel­a­tives in other vil­lages. Those with no fam­ily to house them went to the Hat­tian Bala camp set up by the local ad­min­is­tra­tion.

Mush­taq Ahmed said he was tak­ing his wife and chil­dren to Muzaf­farabad. "But I will come back, I can't

afford to leave my home and be­long­ings un­guarded," he told AFP. At Ka­malkote, on the In­dian side, res­i­dents said they had also faced heavy shelling.

"We spent the night in to­tal hor­ror. Shells did not land in the vil­lage, but fighter jets are still fly­ing above us," said a man who gave his name as Tariq. There was also heavy shelling at Poonch fur­ther south on the Line of Control. While no ca­su­al­ties were re­ported there, au­thor­i­ties have told vil­lagers to pre­pare bunkers.

Some, fear­ing hos­til­i­ties, took buck­ets un­der­ground to bail out com­plexes near the main city of Jammu that had been left flooded by melted winter snow.

Some res­i­dents have also left vil­lages. "It hap­pens reg­u­larly," said one at Poonch who de­clined to be named. "My rel­a­tives know my fam­ily will be ar­riv­ing."

Baseer Khan, a se­nior gov­ern­ment of­fi­cial in In­dian-ad­min­is­tered Kashmir, said au­thor­i­ties are al­ways pre­pared to evac­u­ate bor­der res­i­dents but no order to do so has yet been given.

Kashmiris in a rally in Muzaf­frabad on the Pak­istan side of the Line of Control. Photo: EPA

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