Fear Returns To Kashmir Frontier Amid Ceasefire Violations

31 July 2008
Agence France-Presse

Srinagar: Fear has returned to border areas of Kashmir after a series of ceasefire violations on the de facto frontier dividing the region between India and Pakistan shattered five years of calm, locals say. Troops stationed along the heavily militarised Line of Control (LoC) traded fire four times during July. Each side blamed the other for starting the clashes residents in the area say they fear could escalate into heavier battles between the nuclear-armed neighbours. 'Everyone is worried about these skirmishes,' said Ghulam Qadir Chalku, a farmer living in Silikote village that sits along the LoC, 120 kilometres (74 miles) west of Srinigar, summer capital of the revolt-hit region. 'I pray everything returns to normal soon so we can continue to live a peaceful life,' Chalku, 51, whose wife died in 2003 in Pakistani artillery shelling, told AFP by telephone. Hope emerged late Thursday that Chalku's prayers might be answered when Pakistan's foreign minister said the premiers of the two countries would this weekend thrash out a plan to improve relations. Foreign Minister Shah Mahmood Qureshi said he and his Indian counterpart Pranab Mukherjee 'agreed mutually' their prime ministers 'will come out with a comprehensive statement on (future) bilateral engagement' when they meet on the sidelines of a South Asian summit in Sri Lanka Saturday. There had been some minor small-arms fire between the two sides but the heavy guns along the heavily militarised frontier dividing the disputed Himalayan region for six decades have been silent since November 2003 when a ceasefire went into effect. The truce paved the way for the start of a formal peace process the following year between the rivals that lately has been showing signs of fraying. On Monday, India said Pakistani troops crossed the LoC and killed an Indian soldier. Pakistan countered with charges the Indians intruded into the Pakistani-held zone of Kashmir. The incident marked the first incursion claimed by New Delhi since 1999, when the rivals fought a mini-war in the Kargil peaks along the LoC that forced thousands of border residents to flee fierce shelling. On Wednesday, India reported another ceasefire 'violation' that was denied by Pakistan. 'It's really sad the two sides have started fighting again. It's triggered all kinds of fears,' said school teacher Kounsar Ahmed. Ahmed, 30, teaches in a makeshift school housed in a shed in Garkote village near the LoC. The school building was damaged in a devastating earthquake in 2005 that killed thousands in Pakistan and Kashmir. 'Earlier we'd duck into underground bunkers but the quake damaged the bunkers and we didn't build new ones because we had the ceasefire,' said Ahmed. The ceasefire violations coincide with an upsurge in attacks on Indian targets at home and abroad. There has been a string of bomb blasts in India - in the western commercial hub of Ahmedabad and in the southern IT centre of Bangalore over the weekend that left 50 people dead and scores wounded. India has not blamed Pakistan for the blasts, but Indian officials suspect the attacks were supported by Pakistan intelligence, according to local media. New Delhi said the peace process was 'under stress' after a suicide bomb attack on its Kabul embassy in July killed 41 people. Afghanistan blamed the attack on Pakistan's intelligence agency but Islamabad denied any role. Before the ceasefire, shelling was a part of daily life for families along both sides of the dividing line, killing hundreds of civilians every year as well as countless cattle and other livestock. 'We're all praying for calm on the borders - clashes only bring death and destruction,' said science graduate Nazia Ali, 23.