Peace Audit

Ten Years of Ceasefire along the LoC: Perspectives from Poonch

03 Dec, 2013    ·   4206

KD Maini presents an overview of the present scenario

Peace process and ceasefire along the LoC means different things for the people living in different parts of J&K. For the people of Poonch, the ceasefire of 26 November 2003 brought peace to the area, gave security of life and property to people, protected human rights, created a congenial atmosphere, and restore normalcy after the firing, shelling and infiltration across the border for 58 years.

Before 2003, there was no security of life for the border community in the region. A sense of uncertainty, panic, chaos and silent migration were regular features. The people were not in a position to come out their houses; neither they could work in their agriculture fields or send their children to schools due the threat of firing. As per official records, 23 per cent of houses in the border belt were damaged, 41 died and 78 were injured during the 1997-2003 period. Most of the border villages were vacated by the civilians and they had taken refuge in safer places. Poonch town was under the direct gun shelling of the notorious Chidikote picket of Pakistan.

During the last ten years, the border region also witnessed development. People started working in the fields freely, the government agencies introduced an number of developmental schemes related to border areas like BADP, MGNREGA, PMGSY by the civil authorities, and Operation Sadbhavna by the Army, to create infrastructural facilities like roads, provision of potable drinking water, power supply etc. School and health institutions were made functional and the developmental gaps have started reducing.

Avenues of employment were provided to the villagers near their houses, and the economic growth of the people went up and lifestyles improved. The Poonch-Rawlakote cross LoC road was opened on 20 June 2006, and 62 per cent of the population of Poonch district who belong to divided families now had the privilege of visiting their relatives in PoK after 58 years. Likewise, divided families residing in PoK also started visiting this area. Mistrust and misunderstanding slowly reduced in both the parts of Kashmir.

Since 22 October 2008, trade was also initiated between the two parts of Kashmir through the 46 km long Poonch-Rawlakote road, and 55 km Salamabad-Muzafarabad road. Trade relations between the traders of Poonch on this side and Rawalakote-Kotli on the other side were established, and profitable trade took place. Quarterly meetings of traders from both sides at Chakan-Da-Bhag zero point were almost like a mela; it was difficult to identify who belonged to which country because they spoke the same language, wore the same clothes and discussed trade matters amicably. There was been no serious violation of ceasefire from 2003 to 2011. According to the SSP office Poonch, not even a single person was killed or injured between 2004 and 2011 in cross LOC firing in Poonch district. Relations between the military units posted along the LoC were very smooth and cordial. On religious and national festivals, sweets were often exchanged. Regular flag meetings were held in a friendly atmosphere to sort out minor problems and disputes on the LoC.

Unfortunately, the attitude of the Pakistani government started changing in 2012 with the violations of the ceasefire after June 2012. On 13 June 2012, three Indian jawans were killed by the Pakistani Army at Kirpan Post Krishna Ghati Sector. On 11 July 2012, two Indian soldiers were again killed in this sector. There were 32 major ceasefire violations from mid June 2012 to 31 December 2012 in Balakote, Krishna Ghati, and Poonch sectors.

The violations of ceasefire have adversely affected the movement of divided families on both the sides of LoC. There was no crossing from the Indian side of the LoC during November 2013, while few from PoK could reach Poonch. The continuous violations of ceasefire and uninterrupted firing and shelling across the LoC in Poonch sector and other parts seems to be a calculated move by Pakistan to dishonour the ceasefire of 26 November 2003 to revive the dead issue of Kashmir.

However, the border people are fully aware of the designs of Pakistan because of the suffering they have experienced over 58 years. Now, they want both countries to respect the Line of Control and honour theagreement of ceasefire arrived at between India and Pakistan, and convert the Line of Actual Control into a ‘Line of Peace Relations’, so that people can move toward progress, prosperity and happy lives.