AMIDST the most intense cross-border shelling in the Uri sector in Kashmir since 2003, on now for nearly a week, fresh panic was set off on Saturday following announcements from the Pakistan side asking Uri villagers to vacate their houses.
Evacuation has been on in the area along the Line of Control since Thursday, and by Saturday evening, around a thousand villagers had moved to Uri town as the administration moved in to calm nervous villagers. An alert was sounded for two power projects operating in the region, asking officials to take necessary precautions.
As Indian troops “retaliated with force” to the Pakistani shelling, for the first time since the 2013 ceasefire, artillery fire was seen in the Uri sector. There have been regular exchanges of fire and mortar between the two sides here since Monday, with the Line of Control (LoC) falling silent in the Jammu region for the past few days.
Shelling began from the Pakistan side around 11.30 am on Saturday, hitting the three border villages of Churanda, Silikote and Tilawari in Uri, and leaving several houses damaged. Silikote villagers said that soon after, there was an announcement over a loudspeaker by suspected Pakistani soldiers asking them to vacate their houses.
“They asked us to vacate our houses by 12.30 pm,” said a villager. “This created panic and we started moving out of the villages.”
Deputy Commissioner, Baramulla, Nasir Naqash confirmed hearing about the announcements from the Pakistan side. “This could be a military strategy. This could be a strategy to create fear,” he told The Sunday Express.
Official sources told The Sunday Express that Pakistan has been attempting to enlarge the area of its ceasefire violations on the LoC, which was earlier restricted to south of the Pir Panjal range. But as the Indian Army has adopted a proactive stance south of the range, putting Pakistani soldiers under pressure, Pakistan is taking action in areas such as Uri.
Sources said that the low volume of snowfall received this summer has also meant that Pakistan is hoping to start the infiltration of terrorists earlier than usual this year. Uri is one of the major infiltration routes for militants into Kashmir. The brigade headquarters at Uri was the site of the terror attack that killed 19 soldiers in 2016.
As per official estimates, more than 200 militants are waiting on the LoC north of Pir Panjal, ready to infiltrate into Kashmir. The Army has been targeting Pakistani launch pads and posts along the LoC used to push militants across.
The government used ambulances as well as deployed private vehicles to evacuate the villagers in the Uri sector on Saturday. Naqash said the villagers had “voluntarily” shifted out to the accommodation provided by the government in a higher secondary school at Uri town.
“The situation is tense,” said Sub-Divisional Magistrate Dr Sagar D. “Around 7,000-8,000 people are affected. We have evacuated around a thousand people.”
While the Army refused to comment on the announcements made from across the border, it accused Pakistan of violating the ceasefire. “There was unprovoked ceasefire violation by Pakistan in the Uri sector. Our troops are retaliating,” Defence spokesman Col Rajesh Kalia said.