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The Punjab government’s decision to evacuate villagers from the border areas, following the cross-LoC strike by Indian Army in Jammu and Kashmir, has come under criticism from military experts who have termed the decision as unwarranted and premature. A massive evacuation exercise has been launched by the state government in the villages falling in the vicinity of the Indo-Pak international border in six districts of Fazilka, Ferozepur, Tarn Taran, Amritsar, Gurdaspur and Pathankot. Special camps have been set up in the hinterland to re-locate the population which is being moved from the border areas.
The Indian Express spoke to a cross-section of senior retired defence officers who were unanimous in saying that the decision to vacate the villages was not well thought of especially when the Army itself had not shown any signs of mobilisation and had not occupied the forward defences.
The experts were of the view that instead of asking the villagers to move they should have been used as a force multiplier as was done in previous conflicts of 1965 and 1971 when they aided and helped the Army personnel in combating Pakistani aggression.
Former GOC-in-C of Northern and Central Commands of the Army, Lt Gen HS Panag (retd) described the move as a “premature reaction” and said that as per his assessment there is unlikely to be a response by Pakistan across the international border. “Thousands of villages have to be evacuated as per the Punjab government directive. It is ridiculous to do this. If we are to go on offensive then our villages should be behind you,” he said. Lt Gen Panah said that it made more sense to evacuate the civilian population in adjoining Jammu and Kashmir between Kathua and Jammu where there is a history of firing from across the border as Pakistan considers the border to be a working boundary. “Where is the need to do this in Punjab when you have such a large army with offensive capability. What are you scared of?” he questioned.
Former Director of the Sainik Welfare Department, Punjab, Brig KS Kahlon, said that the action was unwarranted and should not have been resorted to so early when a limited action had taken place in J&K. “ There was no necessity to do this. The step has been taken in a great hurry with adverse impact on people who have standing crops which are waiting to be harvested in fields. Who will prevent vandalism of houses and crops,” he asked.
Brig Kahlon said that even in full fledged wars the villagers of border areas had not abandoned their houses and had helped the Army personnel deployed in the area. “It would have been understandable to vacate certain areas if landmines were being laid. But as of now it is a hasty measure. Who will protect the livestock which cannot be taken into camps,” he asked. He added that he had been receiving calls from Sarpanches of villages along border areas who were complaining about the move.
Another defence analyst, Brig Harwant Singh (retd), was of the view that the evacuation gave the impression of a panic setting in. “It is very unfortunate. We are a bigger country with a much larger Army and we are getting hyper on a small border action,” he said. He said that the state government should have instead thought about integrating the border population in war effort if required and should have even armed the ex-servicemen settled in these villages to serve as home and hearth battalions.