Kashmiris See Little Relief In India-Pakistan Thaw
24 July 2004
Takkipora: With bare hands, a tearful Zeba rummages through the charred rubble of her home, searching for her new daughter-in-law's bridal jewelry. As she searches, the wind blows the scent of charred flesh - human and animal - across the Kashmiri village of Takipora a day after it was razed during a fierce battle between separatist rebels and Indian forces. 'We lost everything, clothing, cash, jewelry ... nothing is left. Oh, God have mercy on us!' she cries. Five members of the Pakistan-based Lashkar-e-Taiba militant group were killed in the clash, their charred bodies later recovered from the ruins of a house in Takipora, a once quiet village nestled among green pine forests near the Pakistan border. No villagers died in the fighting, but Takipora, 140 km (85 miles) northwest of Indian Kashmir's main city, Srinagar, was virtually destroyed and many lost everything. A slow, sometimes unsteady year-long peace process between India and Pakistan is picking up after a series of recent meetings between India's new foreign minister and his Pakistani counterpart. But in Kashmir, where almost 15 years of fighting have killed more than 40,000 people, the tension is worsening for many - almost 200 people have died this month alone. 'Nothing will change in Kashmir,' says a seething Ghulam Nabi, pointing to pile of debris that was his home. 'See the wrath of the Indian forces. This was a bustling village. They burned it down. 'Both India and Pakistan will not let us live in peace.' Officials say Takipora caught fire during the gunbattle. We attacked one house where the terrorists were hiding. The other buildings caught fire because of the strong wind,' said an army officer in a highly guarded camp on the highway outside the village. But villagers say the counter-insurgency unit of the state police torched the village, burning down 36 buildings, including 18 houses, and making more than 200 people homeless. 'They wanted to teach others a lesson; that this is what happens when somebody gives shelter to militants,' said Ghulam Rasool Najar. 'We cannot sto them - militants or soldiers. Life has become miserable.' Indian forces frequently accuse Kashmiris of harboring separatists. But villagers say militants force them, often at gunpoint, to provide food and shelter. Outside the army camp, three soldiers in battle fatigues search a bus while their colleagues order a queue of passengers to raise their arms and then search them for weapons. 'No more death and destruction. Let us live in peace,' reads a billboard nearby.