Six kilometres from the main town of Uri lies Silikote, a village of 22 households on the Line of Control. It used to be a larger village with 120 houses but the border was fenced after militancy started in 1989, leaving most of these houses on the other side.
On Friday, villagers went about their daily chores, cutting grass, tending to cattle and harvesting crops. Beneath the appearance of calm, however, is a fear of cross-border shelling that has been haunting them for the past few days.
They have suffered before. In the years before India and Pakistan called a ceasefire in 2003, cross-border shelling had caused much destruction here. Hostilities now have left them fearful whether the peace of the last 13 years will last, whether they will have to endure the horrors of shelling again.
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The dirt-and-mud track leading to Silikote is visible from bunkers in Sajiwad village across the Line of Control. A kilometre ahead of the village stands a temporary police post that got damaged in the 2005 earthquake. A lone policeman keeps vigil on the LoC and the road. Shells dropped frequently on the road in the past, making it unsafe for villagers to use. And they are wondering if they will be cut off again.
Mohammad Maqbool Chalkoo was seven years old in 2000. “When shells and mortars dropped on our village, fear would grip everyone and they would leave,” he said. “It was peaceful for 13 years but over the past six or seven days we have been hearing light arm firing from posts two kilometres away. My family had left with many others last time, and if shelling begins again we will have to leave again.”
Nazia Begum, settled at Mohura village with her husband, was visiting her ailing mother Saja Begum at Silikote. “My mother had a stroke four years ago,” she said. “If everyone else leaves, she will have to remain here, which is worrying me. I am praying for peace, that the ceasefire remains.”
“I have seen the wars of 1965 and 1971 and all the shelling here from the late 1990 until 2003,” said the elderly Deen Mohammad as he cut grass. “I remember at least six villagers, three of them my relatives, who got killed in shelling before the ceasefire,” he said. “I will not leave my village as I have nowhere to go. The nights are scary… Earlier, we had underground bunkers but even those got damaged in the earthquake.”
Soldiers were building bunkers with local porters. “We are firing in the night just as a routine exercise, so are the Pakistani soldiers on that side,’’ said an officer monitoring the work. “There is no panic here. It is a peaceful village but if shelling begins, you won’t see us chatting with the villagers.”
Villagers said some of them have left for Uri and other towns, a claim denied by police and civil administration officials who visited the village after such reports. “Not a single villager has left his home in Uri. Around 30 villages are sensitive villages but villagers are staying put as no untoward incident or shelling has taken place anywhere,” Uri tehsildar Mudasir Wani said. “We have a contingency plan ready, but it will be implemented only if something happens.”
At Uri, shops were open. “On Thursday there was panic but today everything is again normal,” said Irshad Ahmad of Uri. “When we see the peace bus and trade trucks crossing the LoC, it gives us hope that things will be normal soon,” said Abdul Rashid Khokar.