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As shelling continues, ghost towns line border

People forced to abandon homes, move to safety.

Written by Arun Sharma | Arnia |
Updated: October 8, 2014 7:59:57 am
The main market in Arnia town wore a deserted look on Tuesday. Source: Express The main market in Arnia town wore a deserted look on Tuesday. Source: Express

Until last Friday, Jammu’s Arnia town was bustling with activity. Five days later, it wears a deserted look, with business establishments shut and houses locked.

Ever since Pakistan shelling killed five and injured 35 in the town and nearby Mahashey De Kothey in the early hours of Monday, more than 75 per cent of over 10,000 residents have migrated to safer places. A few people who stayed back to guard their homes are also planning to move as there has been no let up in the shelling.

It’s the same situation near the International Border (IB) at places such as Kaku de Kothey, Treva, Chanana Chak and Kotli, which too resemble ghost villages. On the directions of the district administration, locals have shifted to safer places such as school buildings and community halls.

Their fears are not unfounded. Since the early hours of Tuesday, seven people have been injured in shelling in Arnia town which, until recently, was considered out of range of small arms fire from Pakistan.

At the house of Krishan Lal, a retired BSF personnel whose daughter is getting married on December 2, painters had finished work on Monday evening. A few hours later, he was injured and the house damaged by a mortar shell.

This is the first time since 1947 that mortar shells from Pakistan have landed in the part of town adjacent to a government hospital, said Madan Lal, a local. “The shells used to land on the side of the bus stand, but our side was considered safe. It was unaffected even during the 1965 and 1971 wars,” he said.

Every day before sunset, people along the border are asked to leave their homes and move to safer places, identified by the administration. Announcements are made on loudspeakers fitted on vehicles as well as through local drum beaters.

In what is considered the biggest ceasefire violation of the year, Pakistan firing has spread from Arnia to R S Pura, Kanachak and Pargwal sectors along the IB, besides forward Indian positions along the Line of Control (LoC) in Bhimber Gali, Krishna Ghati and Kerni sectors in Rajouri and Poonch districts.

BSF Director General D K Pathak has visited various forward areas along the IB to assess the situation. At Garkhal border outpost, he told BSF personnel to be prepared to reply to any ceasefire violation.

Pointing out that as many as 40 posts were affected by firing from across the IB on Monday night, a BSF spokesperson said that troops gave “strong and befitting reply” to the Pakistan Rangers. “Firing at some places in Pargwal is still continuing,” he said on Tuesday morning.

On Tuesday, the shelling by Pakistani troops continued along the LoC at Mankote and Balnoi areas, said Defence Ministry spokesperson Lt Colonel Manish Mehta.

Since October 3, after a lull of nearly a month, Pakistan has been resorting to continued ceasefire violation, targeting civilian population living on the Indian side along the IB and the LoC.

This follows US and India’s commitment during PM Narendra Modi’s visit to Washington to “joint and concerted efforts that include dismantling safe havens for terrorists and criminal networks”.

J&K Chief Minister Omar Abdullah had Monday attributed the ceasefire violation by Pakistan to its desperation arising out of its failure to internationalise the Kashmir issue during the recent UN Assembly session.

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