April 2004 News

Kashmir Fence Seals Divide

25 April 2004
News Network International

Bakarpur: Enemies stand so close along this Kashmir frontier that in good times Indian soldiers can shout across the no man's land and invite Pakistani troops over for lunch. When the mood sours, they have a clear shot at each other. These days, something more than decades- old hostilities is separating the antagonists: a 500-mile-long, 12- foot-tall, barbed-wire fence. India is building the barrier in an attempt to seal the rugged frontier against so-called infiltration into held Kashmir. Pakistan fears that India wants to create what diplomats call new 'facts on the ground' and cement the 57-year division of Kashmir, Houston Chronicle reported. Unlike a similar barrier being built by Israel to separate it from the West Bank, which has provoked criticism from the Palestinians and other governments, India's fence has also drawn world attention. As they prepare for the start of landmark peace talks over Kashmir and other issues next month, India and Pakistan are keeping their argument over the fence civil. The two nations declared a ceasefire between their regular forces in November, and at least on the Bakarpur front, the old notion has proved true: A good fence makes good neighbors. Last month, soldiers from India's 60th Battalion of the Border Security Force hollered through the barrier, over a deep trench and across the no man's land to invite Pakistanis to come over and celebrate a Muslim festival. About 100 Pakistani villagers and a few members of Pakistan's paramilitary Rangers force visited the tomb of a Muslim saint and joined Indian forces for lunch, said Inspector Rajinder Kumar, a unit commander of the Indian border force. It was the first time in 17 years that anyone from Pakistan's side of the front line had been allowed to attend, he said. 'After the announcement of the ceasefire, things have been much more friendly,' the inspector said. The mood was a lot more hostile a year ago, when India began building the fence. Most of the work was done during the night to avoid Pakistani fire, said Kashmir Gov. S.K. Sinha, who represents the Indian government in the territory. Last May, Pakistani troops tried to disrupt construction by opening fire for several hours along the Bakarpur front line and at least two other areas. Kumar said he lost two soldiers to the cross-border fire. The new barrier consists of two fences with an eight-foot gap in the middle filled with coils of razor-sharp concertina wire. The fence snakes across the divided territory, hugging the Line of Control - a 1972 cease-fire line that divides the territory - and zigzagging through barren mountains as high as 12,000 feet. As construction workers complete a section on plains near Bakarpur, about 25 miles northwest of Jammu, Indian soldiers are digging up land mines laid when India and Pakistan almost went to war for a fourth time in 2002. Local farmers are taking advantage of the peace along the border to open up new feeding grounds for their livestock, such as water buffaloes that graze next to the barbed-wire barrier. It is an expensive engineering feat, but Indian officials won't say what it cost, or exactly what high-tech equipment is included in the barrier. The plan is to electrify it, which would also be a major accomplishment because many Kashmiris live with only intermittent power, or none. President Pervez Musharraf recently warned that he would pull out of the peace talks if there was no significant progress toward resolving the Kashmir dispute by August.


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