The Unnoticed Regrouping Of Militants On LoC18 September 2011
Muzaffarabad: With the death of three Pakistani and an Indian soldier in crossfire at the Line of Control (LoC) in Jammu & Kashmir, just a day before the auspicious Eid-ul-Fitr, the eight-year-old ceasefire agreement between India and Pakistan has ended. Now, the cross-border shelling in the Dodnial-Kail sector of the Neelum Valley has become a routine. Another Pakistani soldier was reportedly killed when gunshots were exchanged between the two armies on Monday night. But, what is more alarming is an activity that has yet not been reported to the media. The residents of Neelum Valley are worried about suspicious presence of some outsiders who have been seen in the surroundings of village Dodnial since last couple of weeks. Dressed in traditional Pakistani dress Shalwar Kameez and having long beards, majority of these outsiders speak Punjabi. There must be a reason behind their dubious presence in the area, but, nobody knows exactly what the nature of their activities. Even, no one from local population knows who they are and from where they have come from. It has been observed that they spend most of their time away from populated area and avoid interaction with locals. Though, majority of local people avoid talking openly about this suspicious activity, a few among them express their concerns candidly. The government officials, deputed in this far flung district of Pakistan Administered Kashmir, pretend that they do not know anything about such development. Deputy Commissioner Neelum District Khawaja Abdul Qayyum, when contacted to spoke on this new development, said that generally tourists come here from different cities of Pakistan in summer. “This time the tourists have come in more than usual numbers and there is no extraordinary activity,” he says. However, locals do not agree with the explanation of Khawaja Abdul Qayyum. They believe the new faces in the area could be anybody but a tourist. Shahid Mir (pseudo name), is a resident in the Neelum Valley. He says that the activists of banned militant organisations who were active here in past had the same appearance. Nazir Danish, a local lawyer has alleged that many jihadi organisations used local youth to advance their agenda in past. “The parents of dozens of youngsters recruited by militant organisations in past have never been able to see their loved ones again. They have been told that their sons were martyred in Indian Occupied Kashmir,” he goes on to comment. “Who knows how many mothers will sacrifice their sons this time,” says Begum, a mother of two young boys and wife of a martyr. The loss of human lives in the recent escalation of relations between security forces of India and Pakistan deployed along the Line of Control ( LoC ) have raised concerns of the people of both parts of Jammu & Kashmir about the durability of a ceasefire agreement inked in 2003. Those who are apprehensive of the outcome of a heightened militant activity in the area are also critical of an unusual number of forces in the area. They think that both the armies should reduce the number of troops to the lowest possible figure to de-escalate the tense situation. They have also demanded to pro-peace elements of the two nations to come forward and play their role in normalizing the situation on LoC. In Athmuqam, the headquarters of the Neelum district, the Friday prayers last week were followed by a demonstration staged by civil society to condemn the breach of the ceasefire. The Neelum Valley Peace March was organized by local people to expel the non-locals from the area who apparently have established their sanctuaries in the guise of religious and welfare activities. The protestors demanded the government to take strict action against those elements were involved in cross-border activities in past. Earlier this month, residents of the area passed a resolution during the Eid congregation to condemn the incident of firing that took lives of three soldiers. They expressed explicitly that they would not allow a non-state element to use the region for cross-border militant activity. When the ceasefire was adopted at the LoC in 2003, some 200 square kilometres area and about 0.225 million people were directly under the artillery fire and more than 3,000 casualties was reported during the escalation. (The writer is a peace activist and spokesman of Press for Peace, a Muzaffarabad based human rights organisation.