Kashmir frets as India-Pakistan ties worsen

2 December 2008
The Hindustan Times
Sheikh Mushtaq

Garkot: When India blamed 'elements' in Pakistan for the Mumbai attacks last week, fear gripped Kashmir, the region that has been the frontline of their rivalry and strife for over 60 years. 'They spit anger on Kashmir when something wrong goes between them,' said 80-year-old Jabbar Khan, in the village of Garkot on the heavily militarised Line of Control that divides Kashmir between the nuclear-armed rivals. 'There's a sense of foreboding, as if war might at any minute break out,' he said. 'We thought the days of terror were over, but these two countries are hopeless.' Muslim-majority Kashmir is claimed by both Hindu-dominated India and Islamic Pakistan and the row has led to two of the three wars between the neighbours since they were born out of British India in 1947. And the two nations, both by then with nuclear weapons capabilities, were on the brink of a fourth war in 2002 after an attack on India's parliament was blamed on Islamist militants based in Pakistan. A two-decade long insurgency in Indian-ruled Kashmir, which New Delhi says is supported by Pakistan but Islamabad denies, has killed at least 47,000 people. India has said last week's Mumbai attacks, in which 183 people were killed, were carried out by militants from Lashkar-e-Taiba, one of the groups that has been fighting New Delhi's rule in Kashmir. At the height of the attacks, a militant holed up in a Jewish centre in Mumbai called a television channel and said: 'Are you aware how many people have been killed in Kashmir? Are you aware how your army has killed Muslims. Are you aware how many of them have been killed in Kashmir this week?' At the line of control, the two armies regularly exchange fire, although that has dropped considerably since a peace process began in 2004. When tensions rise in the two capitals, the clashes become more frequent. Hundreds of civilians have been killed in the clashes, and with the Line of Control just about 100 metres (yards) from Garkot, the village has had its share of casualties. 'Fear has returned, I am scared, like any villager would be here,' said 45-year-old housewife, Taja Jan. 'I have asked my children to pay attention and be vigilant if shelling starts.' Around Garkot, located on the slopes of a pine tree covered mountain, artillery guns are draped with wire netting. Both sides have scores of military posts in the area. As the fear rises, some villagers are also getting angry. 'From the past 60 years we are living in constant trouble and fear,' said Basharat Qadri, a government employee. 'Let there be a war, a decisive one, so that future generations live in peace.'