Watching the jets hover over north Kashmir, border residents felt apprehensive as they were reminded of the heavy artillery exchange between India and Pakistan more than a decade ago.
Following the ceasefire agreement of 2003, there was peace along the Line of Control, apart from the occasional skirmishes at forward posts. Villagers in Uri — who bore the brunt of heavy cross-border shelling — also reaped the dividends of peace. Now, after the Uri attack and increasing Indo-Pak hostilities, the villagers are preparing for the worst.
“I remember the days when shells used to land in civilian areas. Many lost their lives, including people I knew. After the ceasefire, we have been living a peaceful life,” said Mohammed Aijaz Khan, who runs a hotel in the main market. “Now we are worried about cross-border shelling again.”
Khan said his family was lucky as their underground bunker was still intact. “If shelling starts, the people of Uri will suffer the most. Unlike our neighbours, who have no underground shelters, we are lucky as we can save ourselves,” he said.
In the late 1990s, when shelling was at its peak, many villages, especially those along the LoC, had constructed underground shelters with government assistance. Most of the bunkers were damaged in the 2005 earthquake, and remained in disrepair due to the ceasefire.
“After the Uri attack we are thinking of getting the shelters repaired,” said Engineer Mukhtar Ahmad, who lives in Garkot, within shelling range of the Pakistan army. Ahmad said that many villagers were thinking of making new underground bunkers. “In the absence of bunkers, we have to move to a safer location,” he added.
At the remote Trikanjan village, 25 km before Uri town, locals voiced similar concerns. “We have seen the worst shelling. In the late 1990s, dozens of families migrated from our area. Now every villager is concerned,” said Hilal Ahmad, who teaches in a private school.
Most of the villages on the LoC are within the range of artillery firing from Pakistan. The Indian Army also has artillery positions at various places from Boniyar up to forward areas.