Pakistan firing hits life on Kashmir border (Lead, Changing dateline)

Last Updated: Wed, Jan 16, 2013 12:00 hrs

Poonch, Jan 16 (IANS) Life has turned full circle for many villagers whose homes virtually hug Jammu and Kashmir's porous border with Pakistan.

With the Indian and Pakistani militaries locked in fresh shelling and firing, and with tensions peaking, panic has gripped the villages, which had been breathing easy since the 2003 truce.

"They (villagers close to the border) are fearing a collapse of the ceasefire agreement (between India and Pakistan)," said a Poonch resident, Aijaz Kazmi.

Poonch town, about 250 km northwest of Jammu, is located barely 15 km from the Line of Control (LoC) that divides Kashmir between India and Pakistan.

Until 2003, the edges of the town would often get shelled by the Pakistanis.

Hashim Din, 75, of Khari hamlet recalled what life was like before the two countries decided to sign a truce along the winding LoC.

"Earlier we led a life of animals," Din said over telephone. "We had to frequently migrate to safer areas during firing across the LoC. The firing would kill people and our cattle and damage our homes."

In the process, fields were not farmed. People preferred to build mud houses instead of concrete ones due to frequent firing.

The 2003 ceasefire changed all that. But the bliss is over, for now.

After Pakistan accused India of killing a soldier Jan 6, two Indian soldiers were killed in Jammu and Kashmir. Pakistani raiders beheaded one and took away his head, and mutilated the other soldier's body.

Since then, Pakistan says it has lost two more soldiers to Indian firing.

Many of the villages -- also called hamlets because of their size -- are located close to the border, so close that one can see movements of troops and people across the LoC.

Each hamlet is home to 150 to 200 people, dominantly Sunni Muslims. The Indian Army posts are not far away.

Already, the Pakistani Army has breached the truce 10 times this year, compared to 117 last year and 61 in 2011.

Indians say that Pakistani forces open fire at Indian posts to help terrorists to sneak into Jammu and Kashmir.

Chand Mohammad, a 45-year-old farmer in Salotri village, said children in the border hamlets had stopped going to schools "as their route is exposed to shelling".

Even farming, cattle rearing and routine life have got hit.

Iqbal Khan, who lives near Sona Gali, where Pakistani troops killed the two Indian soldiers Jan 8, is very worried.

"We have restricted our movements and mostly stay indoors," he said. "Most of us are avoiding sending children to schools."

A civil administration officer in Poonch confirmed that people close to the border were now living in fear.

"Locals in Mendhar sector, where border clashes happens daily, are scared. We are trying to inject confidence in them," said the official, requesting anonymity.

Riza Ahmad of Balnoi village, also located close to the LoC, told IANS: "It was only after 2003 that we began farming and sending our children to schools. We now feel that firing will not stop."

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