March 2001 News

At the border, people talk of ‘peace’ and ‘talks’

13 March 2001
The Hindustan Times
Arun Joshi

Suchetgarh: The ceasefire has changed life at the borders — for better, and for worse. Men can now be seen riding their tractors on the dusty roads - signs of traditional rural life that were missing four months ago. More than 200 km along the border, Mendhar villagers are relieved they do not see much firing nowadays. But there are greater fears. "We don"t want to travel back to the days of fear. Borders should stay quiet", Charanjit Singh, a farmer says feelingly. "No fire, no fear". For him and other villagers along the borders, Prime Minister Vajpayee's unilateral ceasefire and subsequent declaration by Pakistan to stop hostilities on the border have been like a boon. The ceasefire has also changed attitudes. Cries of 'settle it once for all" and "declare war on Pakistan" are forgotten expressions. "Let India and Pakistan talk and restore peace", says Jagantnath of Jhangar in Nowshera - about 100 km from here. But fear persists in areas where militants are active. The rise in the level of internal violence has reached frightening dangerous dimensions. "More than the killings, what really scares us is the midnight knock by militants, demanding food and shelter", says a Mendhar resident who has shifted his family to Jammu. "Pak firing would force us to shift temporarily, but the ceasefire has driven us from our homes, maybe permanently", he says. Worse, these villagers cannot even approach the Army for help because the security forces cannot take pre-emptive action against militants. They run a double risk - if they do not pass on information about militants, they are seen as harbourers, and if they do, militants take retribution.


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