November 2003 News

Kashmiris in border areas welcome ceasefire

28 November 2003
The Dawn
Tariq Naqash

CHAKOTHI: For 12-year-old Nauman Ahmed the joy had not limits as nobody was asking him to discontinue play and stay close to a bunker. Apart from the jubilations of Eid, the sixth grade student was cheerful because he and other children were playing in an open field in this border town without fear of Indian shelling from across the Line of Control. Indian gun positions on the other side of the line overlook the town and have often caused devastation here in the past. 'I am very happy because today none of our elders has forbidden us from playing in the open field. Surely, it is something we must rejoice over,' the boy told Dawn on Thursday. For years, Indian troops have been regularly shelling the civilian population of Azad Kashmir along the LoC, causing heavy losses. The toll from January to early November was 133 dead and nearly 480 others wounded, according to official count, whereas casualties were higher in the corresponding period of last year. Though some expressed scepticism and apprehensions about the durability of the ceasefire, by and large people were relaxed. 'I am thankful to Prime Minister Mir Zafarullah Khan Jamali for taking the bold step and saving us from a permanent scourge,' shopkeeper Fazl Hussain said. 'It's not me alone, but everyone in our village is delighted and thankful to him.' He said the local people had celebrated Eid in a tension free atmosphere because they were sure there would not be any fire from across the LoC. A student said he was happy because he could go to school without the fear of being hit by the mortar or machinegun fire. Students in the border areas have borne the brunt of shelling as the educational institutions had to be shut to avoid casualties. 'I hope if the ceasefire continues our studies would progress without interruption,' a student, Adil Sheikh, 15, said. A journalist said the displaced persons had started returning to their homes along the LoC. 'The homecomings will intensify once the people became sure that the ceasefire would hold,' he said. The gratification was higher in the northeastern Neelum Valley, where the perpetual closure of the main road due to Indian shelling had aggravated the agony and problems of the residents. 'Outsiders cannot even imagine the sufferings we have been undergoing during the past 14 years due to unrelenting Indian shelling. Indeed the ceasefire has brought relief for us,' Shah Mohammad said. Indian troops were hitting every moving object on the valley road even with small arms, due to which the authorities would not allow any vehicle on the road. The residents were forced to take the tiresome and time consuming journey through the two alternate bypasses, which were also vulnerable to Indian artillery fire at several points. Casualties were a routine matter for the residents of every village of the valley. The highest death toll in a single day was recorded in Neelum Valley when 12 people were killed by Indian shelling on Oct 5. 'It was the first Eid in several years we celebrated without receiving 'gifts' from the enemy guns,' Mr Mohammad said. Hafizur Rehman, a dispenser in Kel, termed the ceasefire a commendable step. 'Earlier, I was always worried about the safety of my parents and siblings but now I hope that there is a winsome change in the situation,' he said. Police superintendent Raja Ghulam Sarwar told Dawn that the valley road had been opened from 3pm on Eid day, which had mitigated the plight of the residents to a great extent. He confirmed that there had been no incident of firing in any sector along the LoC.


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