As daylight fades over Gakhrial village, which is barely 500 metres from Pakistan at the International Border (IB), Gulshan Devi rushes to round things up so that she can leave. Like the 1,500 fellow-inhabitants, Devi leaves home every evening and returns in the morning these days.
The firing at the IB has surprised officials of both the army and the Border Security Force (BSF). As one senior BSF official said, “It is the Line of Control that is normally a live wire. The ceasefire is often flouted at the IB too but never to this extent. Villages and towns have not been targeted like this.”
In the eight days since the border shelling began, seven civilians have died and over 70 have been injured. As many as 20,000 civilians from 70 villages have been dislocated. The Pakistani logic for targeting the IB has foxed the army, the BSF and even chief minister Omar Abdullah.
A senior army officer at the Udhampur-based Northern Command said that there have hardly been infiltration attempts at the IB in the last four years. “Two terror attacks have taken place along the IB in Hiranagar and Samba but in both cases, terrorists were members of suicide squads and were targeting forces, not civilians,” the officer said.
The civilian population in Arnia — a town that lies a kilometre away from the IB — too is wondering why their homes and shops were pounded overnight.
Pawan Kumar, who has fled to a relief camp with his entire family, said: “We thought Pakistan would think twice before targeting us after Narendra Modi came to power”.
Is the Pakistani army — indoctrinated in large part on religious fundamentalism — testing what it perceives to be Modi’s machismo? Are Pakistani rangers establishing their supremacy over foreign and security-related issues after Pakistan Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif’s handshake with PM Modi at his swearing-in in Delhi where he agreed not to meet Hurriyat leaders?
Army and BSF officials do not tread political waters but believe firmly that Pakistan has chosen to set the IB and not the LoC on fire.
“Unsettling civilians along the IB is far more impactful from the Pakistani point of view because locals here comprise a Hindu population,” said an official.
Villagers sit near a blood stained spot after alleged mortar shell firing from the Pakistan side into a residential area at Masha da kothe village in Arnia Sector in Jammu. AP Photo/Channi Anand
“In heavy exchanges across the LoC, Pakistan’s civilian population gets affected because their villages lie closer to the LoC. They rarely target Muslim villagers on our side,” said another official.
If the Pakistani army is indeed working on a religious sum game while daring the Modi government, it has added a whole new layer to the conflict between the two neighbours.
Already, the tit-for-tat, mortar-for-mortar response has gone into a spiral that neither side is willing to break out of.
In pics: 30 photos of Indians under Pakistan fire