In news for the cross border shelling, more than seventy thousand people live in Karnah, which has historically remained a gateway to Sharda, Mahmood Ahmad writes
This is the distant view of Tangdar from the Sadna Pass. Image Mahmood Ahmad Sandwiched in the rugged Shamshbari peaks of is a pass that connects Karnah with Kupwara. Almost 65000 people live (2011 census) in about 42 villages (2 uninhabited) that make Karnah, a strategically located place that historically was the gateway to Sharda, the ancient Kashmir University.
Technically, Karnah is an amalgamation of three valleys where Pahari speaking people dwell. Given its strategic location, formal permission is required from Deputy Commissioner, Kupwara. The road to Tangdar, the main Karnah town, is a National Highway (NH 701). The 78 km road is well mettled and runs through habitations and rice fields till it reached Chokibal where the army lists all entries.
This is the Kashmir side as soon from the Sadna Pass. Image; Mahmood Ahmad.
Once the Transit Point (TP) is crossed, the road bifurcates with one part of it leading towards Bungus. The road leads through the Drangyari valley that is drained by Drangyari nullah. This nullah descends down from the famous Bungus Meadows. The stream acquires the name of Kehmil nullah in the down valley.
The Darnyari slopes are richly clothed with deodar forests. As the road leaves Chokibal, there are meadows and forests en route, the forested slopes of Shamshbari present a picture-perfect look. The altitude increase as road emerges out of the tree line leading towards the pass, surrounded on the south by rugged mountains.
This is the Sadna Pass that overlooks both sides of the Valley. Image Mahmood Ahmad
This 3120 meters pass, between Kashmir and Karnah , is known as Nasta Chhun (a Kashmiri word that means something that lacks a nose). It is popular by Sadhna Pass, however.
It is said Sadhna the famous Bollywood actress of yester-years, at the pinnacle of her career was invited to Kupwara post, India Pakistan war of 1971 to enhance the morale of the army. She visited this pass to change its name forever. Usually, the pass closes with the onset of winter. Off late, however, the army makes every effort to keep the pass open during the winter. The pass is prone to harrowing accidents during winter and every year it kills people. The last major accident was on January 5, 2018, when an avalanche swept away 11 people. This is precisely why the locals are seeking a tunnel to bypass the perilous pass.
This is the Kishen Ganga (Neelum) rivulet that acts as the Line of Control between the two halves of Kashmir. Image Mahmood Ahmad
At the peak of the Pass, an army camp maintains a proper record of the travellers and also provides critical help to travellers during winters. This is the most fascinating part of the travel as the scenery from the pass is grand – towards the south with towering Shamshabari ridgeline rising up to an altitude of 4350 mts; towards north lies the Taya ridgeline. The road downhill fallows the Batamaju stream to Tangdar.
During winters, an alternative pass known as Kakua Pass (2987 mts), adjacent to Nasta Chhun pass is used to cross over to Kashmir owing to its lower altitude.
Most of Karnah is located around two principal streams – Batamoji and Kazinag. Batamoji rises from the Sadhna Pass and the Kajinag originates in a mountain range know by the same name and flows through Leepa valley on the other side of the Line to Control and enters Karnah. Both the streams merge into Kishanganga near Teetwal.
Majority of the Karnah population is Pahari speaking and almost 8% are Gujjars. There is only Hajinard village that has Kashmiri speaking people. Surprisingly there are two Sikh villages which speak volumes of the diversity of the place. Karnah is a separate constituency in the Jammu and Kashmir assembly.
The historic rope bridge of Teetwal that connects the other Kashmir. Image Mahmood Ahmad
Karnah climate is warm compared to Kashmir. The valley produces the best quality walnuts. Batamaji waters irrigate swathes of rice-fields that is why it is called the “Rice mother”. The area grows special red rice, locally known as Zagg. This variety suits high-altitude areas. It is valued for its texture and aroma.
Batamoji is prone to flash floods that usually wreaks havoc. In 2018, Karnah was lucky when the people could escape the wrath of the stream when on August 14; a cloudburst took place around the pass in the afternoon. Frantic phone calls helped Tangdar move to safer ground.
The people are dependent on agriculture and animal husbandry as there is plenty of pasture land available on the mountains. Government and army provide alternative employment opportunities to the locals. Maize, beans, potatoes and rice are the staple crops. The main villages located between Tangdar and Teethwal are Gund Gujran, Amrohi, Tadd and Saidpora. Their etymology can be traced by accessing the revenue records reflecting their historical origin.
Tangdar: At the site of this village old dilapidated structures were found, a narrow passage led to this village, the way to it was difficult due to which the village was known as Tang meaning narrow and Deh meaning village. Later it became Tangdar.
Teethwal: The village was initially called by the name as Teerath Bal. It was because Kazinag stream merges with river Kishanganga hence the spot was venerated, later on, it became Teethwal.
This is the rope bridge, up to white strip, is the Jammu and Kashmier side. Image Mahmood Ahmad Gundi Gujran: Initially some Gujjar people settled here. Gund means land and Gujran means Gujjars. Later, people from other tribes too settled here.
Amrohi: The place got inhabited by Gujjar people who started cultivating the land. The head of these people at that time was Chando Aamir, the village, later on, became to be known as Amrohi after the headman.
Tadd: A family got settled here and it is narrated that in the ancient times due to devastating floods a large number of huge trees got uprooted and accumulated at this place. In Pahari language a large dump of logs is known as Taal, so Taal was the name given to the village, which later on became Taad.
Saidpora: In past, people of Syed cast came and settled here, as a result, the village was known as Saidpora. A famous Sufi saint named Syed Jasti Sahib lived here and there is a shrine dedicated to this pious soul.
M A Stein in his The Ancient Geography of Kashmir describes Karnah as follows: “This tract which is now known as Karnav or Karnau, bore the old name of Karnaha. It seems to have been held by small chiefs nominally tributary of Kashmir even in later Hindu times. It is but rarely mentioned in chronicles (that) the inhabitants were Khasas who are represented by modern Bomba clan still holding Karnav. Their Rajas were practically independent till the Sikh conquest and often harried the N W parts of Kashmir. The last eruption of the Karnav Bombas and their allies the Khakha chiefs of the Vitasta valley occurred as late as 1846.”
These events stand described by Charles Ellison Bates in A Gazetter of Kashmir as follows: “Raja Shere
The people live near to each other on the two sides of the LoC that this village is completely visible to the naked eye. Image Mahmood Ahmad
Ahmud, who is said to have been the seventh of his family who succeeded to the title of the Raja or Nawab of Karnao was the son of Raja Munsur Khan; he rebelled against the Maharaja in 1867 and collected his retainers on the north side of Kishen Ganga severed communication with the left bank; after a while, his followers mistrusting the temerity of their leader deserted him. In this extremity, the Raja claimed the protection of the Ahkund of Swat, which was refused. He then applied to the British Government with a like result and as a last resource threw to the mercy of the Maharaja who spared his life assigning a small jagir in the Kashmir valley for the maintenance of the Raja and his family.”
K D Maini in his article Historical town of Karnah writes that Maharaja allotted a small village Yaripura in Kashmir valley to Raja Shere Ahmad Khan. He along with his family migrated to Yaripura and passed his last days of life there where he was buried.”
“The misunderstanding and eventual rebellion of Shere Ahmad is stated to have thus arisen. The Maharaja sent to cut timber near the village of Baran on the right bank of the Kishan Ganga and the wood was appropriated by Raja Shere Ahmad for a house he was erecting. The Maharaja servants having expostulated in vain reported the matter to their master who sent certain officers to make an investigation. These were maltreated by Shere Ahmad who especially wreaked his vengeance on the news writer. The Maharaja then moved troops in the direction of Karnao when the Raja raised the standard of revolt,” Bates has recorded.
It further adds: “A fort is situated in the middle of the northern portion of Karnao valley, where there something less than a mile in width. It lies on the bare plain just south of the village Tangdar. The walls, which are loopholed are about 30 feet high, built of stone connected with bands of timber, and are double at the west end. At each corner, there is a bastion tower. The garrison is said to number 100 sepoys besides 50 who are accommodated in a line of huts on the north side of the fort. It is said that this fort was built during the Sikh occupancy of Kashmir and Jodh Singh was appointed Killadar. Shere Ahmad Raja of Karnao forged an order directing him to return to Kashmir with his garrison, and the ruse succeeding, the Raja attacked Jodh Singh and his troops as they were leaving the valley; he also burned the fort.” Today no vestiges of the fort are left.
Abdul Rashid Kokhar, Sarpanch Teetwal lives in a double story house. He dreams of the revival of the lost glory of Karnah and Teetwal in particular. He has sent several representations to Ministry of External Affairs imploring upon policymakers to open up the Teetwal crossing to Sharda, the sacred Hindu temple revered by Kashmiri pundit for the annual pilgrimage.
M A Stein in his The Ancient Geography of Kashmir summarizes the importance of Sharda as follows: “The temple of the goddess Sarada is amongst the foremost Tirthas of Kashmir. It is well known ever far beyond the frontiers of Kashmir. Alberuni had heard of it and the story recorded in a Jaina life of the great Grammarian Hemacandra proves that its fame spread even to far off Gujarat. Notwithstanding this former celebrity, the Sharda shrine is now almost forgotten by the pundits of Srinagar and the great mass of the Brahman population of the valley. Fortunately, however, tradition has been more tenacious in the immediately adjoining tract of Kamraz. Guided by it, I was able to ascertain the position of the ancient Tirtha. In Jonarajas time the shrine was still sufficiently popular to attract a visit even from Sultan Zainul Abidin.”
Kokhar has relatives across the LoC and has visited the other side. He has also visited the shrine of Sharda in order to know more about it. He displayed a pamphlet that he and his friends have printed to highlight the potential of the Shrine and the dividends it could bring to this remotest corner of Kashmir if the route is opened for pilgrimage. He remains hopeful that one day he could travel to Sharda with his Kashmiri Hindu friends.
Ruins of Sharda Peeth shrine in Neelum Valley of PaK.
Not far away from Kokars house lies a historical suspension bridge. It was This constructed in 1931 to facilitates passage across Kishan Ganga. What is unique about this is that a white line at the middle of this suspension bridge marks the LoC – half of the bridge belongs to India and the other half belongs to the other side. With the permission of the Indian Army, one can walk the bridge up to the white line. Similarly, people from the other side can also walk up to their side of the bridge.
The villages located on the other side are visible along with the people, the traffic and their daily routine. A rough road leads upriver to the last village know as Simari. Simari is the last village of Teetwal which is perched on a slope on the left bank of Kishan Ganga.
Geographically Karnah is prone to natural disasters as avalanches, landslides and flash floods are of a regular occurrence. Border shelling continues to be the worst nemesis. The place was badly affected by the 2005 earthquake in which about 350 people died and almost all the houses developed cracks, as such most of the houses have been reconstructed. So historical architecture does not exist.
In the aftermath of the earthquake, both sides exchanged relief material, thereafter Teetwal crossing was opened for people to people movement during the summer months. During winter the crossing remained suspended. This crossing was contrary to Salamabad and Chanda Bagh which was open not only for people to people movement but for trade as well. Teetwal crossing like the other two crossings is presently closed.
Karnah is credited for producing some of the most fertile brains – Dr Naseer A Shah, Prof Abdul Wahid Qureshi, Mohammad Yasin Shah and countless others.
A few years back army has constructed an alternative road which connects Nastachunn pass with Farkiyan Pass that leads down to Keran a parallel valley located North of Karnah. Permission from the army is sufficient to travel this stunningly beautiful 60 km road that traverses through a ridgeline of Shamshabari range. The travel over this road provides a bird’s eye-view of Khangan and Shamshabari ranges. In the distant background, stunning views of Kashmir valley can be seen. The road runs around an altitude of 3000 mts where during summer months some rare alpine flora can be seen. This road poses a huge potential for off-roading and border tourism. If the tourism department and the Army jointly work to package this road it can be a new tourism product that can attract huge clientele.
(The author is the Director Industries Kashmir and visited the place during Back to Village.)
Krishna Ghati Sector
Below is an article about yesterday's CFV by PA in KG sector, usually, when retaliation is required one such sector chosen by PA is KG as there is relative domination of PA posts in this sector:
India, Pakistan exchange gunfire on LoC
Mendhar, December 25, 2020, 12:56 AM
UPDATED: December 25, 2020, 12:59 AM
Armies of India and Pakistan on Thursday exchanged gunfire on the Line of Control in Krishna Ghati sector of Poonch’s Mendhar area.
Officials said that on Thursday afternoon, Pak army resorted to unprovoked firing and shelling on LoC in KG sector and targeted Indian army posts.
“After hour-long firing and shelling on LoC, uneasy calm prevailed and again in the evening, violation of ceasefire started in the same area at around 06:25 pm,” officials said.
They said that firing and shelling from Pak army side drew equal retaliation by Indian army side and exchange of fire was going on continuously when last reports were received.
India, Pakistan exchange gunfire on LoC Greater Kashmir | Armies of India and Pakistan on Thursday exchanged gunfire on the Line of Control in Krishna Ghati sector of Poonch's Mendhar area. Officials said that on
Have also added a video to show the sector, relative to other sectors further north, the topography of the area is quite hilly but not supremely high in terms of altitude but affords good cover in terms of greenery and dense foliage. Couldn't find a video from our side hence the Indian news source:
As India and Pakistan are shelling each other’s positions, it is the civilian population that suffers the worst. Bilal Handoo spent a day with the people in Teetwal—almost 200km from Srinagar—that is living in the fear of a war, perpetually, a situation that has impacted their socio-economic life
Strong icy wind was gusting as scrolling eyes and stern faces greeted visitors at Sadhna Pass overlooking the Karnah valley. Arrival of sightseers in the times of LoC flare-up drew bunch of wary soldiers and an agile cop from a concrete bunker to count heads inside the vehicle. A local guide had already warned: ‘Sadhna Top might itself be an end of your journey to Teetwal.’
Thickened jackboots and loaded trucks at the gargantuan military garrison called Sadhna Pass almost proved him right — before a local guide and a mandatory official pass did the trick.
As the vehicle entered Karnah, a signature pines and peaks paved way to eroding hillocks and slightly warm air. Down in Kupwara, people had already spoken about the different culture and language of the region. But exploring what has been long labelled as the ‘other side’ began on the bumpy roads marked with landslides and shooting stones.
Inside the vehicle, the local guide was busy narrating the legend of 10600 ft-Sadhna Pass nestled on Shamsbari mountainous range. Best known for its legend of blind and deaf fairies, Sadhna Pass was originally known as Nastachun (cut nose) Pass, the only access to Karnah from Kupwara.
Before 1947, this Pass was Kashmir’s easiest and shortest route to Muzaffarabad via Neelam Valley, the abode of erstwhile Shardapeth. The guide said that Maharaja Pratap Singh had installed a checkpost in Pass to save his domain from invasion of Karnah’s Bomba Rajas. Later in Hari Singh era, it became Muzaffarabad’s principal tehsil.
“This Pass remains mostly closed from December to April due to snow,” the guide informed, as the army signpost—Respect All, Suspect All, Inspect All—made a glaring sight. The journey on zigzag, treacherous roads momentarily halted at number of security checkposts.
The guide further spoke of the three valleys—Neelam, Leepa and Karnah—that constitute the region beyond Sadhna. “Legend has it that some of Alexander the Great’s invading army lost their way and ended up populating the region,” said the guide, unwittingly reaffirming the presence of Aryan race in the region.
A glimpse of Sadhna Pass. (Photo: Bilal Handoo/KL) In a while, the vehicle reached Nachayan—a postcard hamlet strewn with wooden huts. Amid the faded green, hardly anyone was visible around. The only introduction of this village came through Raja Manzoor — the incumbent lawmaker from Karnah who lives here. Down the road running parallel to a serpentine stream full of pebbles and boulders, a signature village life unfolded.
Out of every five men that made their presence felt, two wore camouflaged jackets. The military fatigues tell the larger reality of Karnah, where the major employment comes from army that hire locals as potters.
The main Tangdhar bazaar, with faded medieval charm, was hosting disgruntled gathering inside a park. The locals had assembled to send some strong message to establishment. Amid talks and normal life around, LoC escalation was nobody’s imagination.
“It seems the rulers operating from the other side of Sadhna Pass have forgotten that there exists a region called Karnah on map,” a fiery young man with fair complexion thundered, making the young men in audience to burst into instant applauses. “We voted as we were promised tunnel and other basic rights.”
The demand of the tunnel is nothing new in this mountain-locked region. In March 2016, Karnah residents held a protest at Srinagar Press Enclave demanding the tunnel from TP Chowkibal to Zarla curve. The tunnel, they said will negotiate the height of Sadhana Pass, prevent the loss of lives from snow avalanches and shooting stones and make the godforsaken belt accessible round the year.
“Most of Karnah people work in valley as labourers,” the guide said. “During winter, labourers remain idle affecting their source of income.” For a non-agrarian society like Karnah, winters bring lot of hardships.
Among the man turned up for the gathering in a Tangdhar park was Mohammad Hussain, a senile man from Gujjar community. People living atop hills often come down to avail ration, he said. “Most of the times, we find gates of ration depot shut forcing us to return empty-handed after spending around Rs 1000 for every trip.”
Last time, ration was at the heart of Karnah’s revolt.
On February 27, 2016, people from Karnah took out a massive rally from Tangdhar to Teetwal to get ration from Pakistan-administered Kashmir. The march was a mark of protest against the food law aimed at “starving the locals”—who don’t posses usual rural landholdings. While the march was stopped at Chitrakote—3km short of LoC on official assurance, the grievance remains unaddressed till date.
Some men assembled in the park whispered how spooks were shadowing them around. Being a frontline town, said one of the two prominent contractors of Karnah, the mountainous region remains on intelligence radar. “You name it—CID, IB, RAW, MI or NIA—everyone has its men stationed here to keep check on people and movement around,” the contractor sporting trimmed grey beard said. In other words, he meant that Karnah is a big panopticon, where everyone is under close watch.
The contractor was shortly proven right—when some local sleuths came in pack, probing the presence of an undisclosed scribe in the town.
Nachayan village in Tangdhar. Meanwhile at the local gathering, ire was particularly directed at unionists—for failing people of this distant land. “This Raja Manzoor and his party PDP promised us change in 2014 elections and ended up following the footsteps of their predecessors,” said a local firebrand cleric. “For us, even the water of his home is haraam—till he delivers on his promise.”
For this fringe town, Raja Manzoor’s 2014 victory was broadcasted historic as he went on to defeat the teacher-turned-legislator Kafil Ur Rehman—who was invincible since 1996. It was the jab at NC’s winning streak in Karnah (NC won the seat 7 times) starting in 1957 when polls were first conducted here. Before Manzoor, only the slain unionist-turned-separatist Abdul Gani Lone had defeated NC from Karnah in 1983 elections.
But politics apart, most of Tangdhar’s traditional elite are either walnut traders or contractors. While ‘high-caste’ Mughals and Syeds rule the roost, Gujjars and Bakkarwals dwell peaks. Paharis form a majority of population in Karnah’s 58 villages. Based on their language and food, a popular notion on the other side of Sadhna Pass exists: Tangdhari people don’t consider themselves as part of Kashmir valley.
“It is a different kind of stereotyping against us,” said Hamid Khan, a local. “We identify ourselves with Kashmiris, but distance and heightened military concentration label us the other.” Karnah lately witnessed protests over Burhan Wani’s killing, Khan said. “During the civil uprising, people even stoned the cavalcade of minister Haq Khan and forced him to retreat.” But such events, said Khan, rarely reach to the other side of Sadhna Pass.
Townspeople also spoke how Karnah was established by Raja Karn and how a segment of Jamia Masjid Tangdhar is being revered for hosting Mir Syed Ali Hamdani. But there is something, very interesting, they also tell: Karnah has been the ideal hiding spot for many defeated emperors.
Main Taghdhar. The journey ahead—towards Teetwal— began on discomfited note. A local cop decided to accompany the visitors. His argument: With Indo-Pak forces locking horns on LoC, the visit must be a guarded affair. Inside the vehicle, however, the guide pointed at the only piece of infrastructure in Tangdhar—a concrete skeleton of Higher Secondary School.
With police jeep trailing behind, new housing clusters with corrugated tin roof and bricks made a common sight down in Tangdhar. Most of these structures cropped up after October 2005 earthquake — that left 273 people dead with 9113 houses flattened in Karnah. Rebuilding that followed, changed the traditional landscape of the region.
The vehicle passed through seven security checkposts before pulling over in Teetwal where Kashmir stands divided between two sides by a Kishan Ganga (aka Neelam) river.
Pakistan administrated Kashmir was full of life with Toyota vans and colourful buses plying on metallic roads. Women could be seen washing clothes on other side of the river — barely 50 meters away. The opposite region is called Athmuqam and the village’s name is Chaliyaan beyond which starts Neelam valley. In Teetwal, locals don’t keep it any secret: Pakistan side is better in terms of power, road, telecom and living standards.
Teetwal divided into two parts. Before 1947, Teetwal was the trading hub where hundreds of shops lined up selling ghee, honey and walnut kernels. Those commodities would reach Teetwal from Karnah, Leepa and Neelam valleys. But today, Teetwal has no commercial importance. It looks more of a garrison. The place changed after 1947 when gulfs were created.
The change took place when one of the six lashkars, as part of Operation Gulmarg, advanced from Teetwal to capture vital towns of erstwhile Baramulla district. But Indian Army captured Teetwal on May 23, 1948—the date annually celebrated as Teetwal day. Pakistan again attacked to recapture Teetwal on Oct 13, 1948. “Lance Naik Karam Singh was then a commanding officer,” said Santosh Yadav, a soldier posted in Teetwal, “who along with a few men counter-attacked and evicted the enemy after a close quarter encounter.” Later that year, Singh was awarded Param Vir Chakra, India’s highest wartime military award, for his Teetwal exploits.
But that war forever changed Teetwal — the only region in Kashmir valley that doesn’t receive snowfall. Its inhabitants would spend summers along with their livestock in Leepa valley’s Rishiyan Gali and temporarily settle there. Most of them couldn’t come back after 1948.
In Teetwal, people still recall the names of their relatives living on the other side. To reunite these families, a crossing point was opened in Teetwal after the devastating earthquake of Oct 2005. The 175-feet suspension bridge was initially used to exchange relief material on both sides. “Over 10,000 local residents are living on the other side,” said a police officer posted in Teetwal. “The number only increased after militancy triggered fresh migration during nineties when the population living nearby LoC became the target.”
Colourful passenger bus plying on Pak side of Teetwal. With the return of LoC flare-ups, locals fear that any eventuality could happen despite the fact that hardly any shell from Pakistan side has landed in Teetwal. State government is yet to provide them concrete bunkers. “We were recently evacuated after reports of surgical strikes started doing rounds,” said Mohammad Shaban, a grocer in Teetwal. “We returned days later only to learn how shelling was staged.” Even when guns fall silent, living on LoC has its own costs.
In 2004, army erected LoC fencing as part of the counter-infiltration measures. But it ended up messing with lives. Due to its off beam location, at least six thousand people of 12 villages on the other side of the fence including Teetwal have been suffering.
Villagers need to prove their identity to pass through special gates during day. When the gates remain closed during night, it often leaves many locals outside to fend for themselves. “Those left out make it to home only the next day,” said Shaban. “Besides, residents living on the other side of the fence have to inform army in case a guest visits them.”
Over the years, around twelve feet fence—installed by network of motion sensors, thermal imaging devices and alarms—has created psychological barrier for the residents. They even fret to walk on a small stretch between rows of fencing. Why? “Because it is mined with explosives.”
A suspension bridge in Teetwal connecting divided Kashmiris. Amid these horrors, life on LoC fakes normalcy.
There is a village called Dahni Sadpora where people are dependent on Pakistan for irrigating their agriculture fields. Since 1948, the farmers yearly collect money in a handkerchief and throw it to the other side — so that water for irrigation is supplied to them, said Imtiyaz, a local. This year the non-holding of Flag Meeting between Indian Army and Pakistani Rangers led to a situation where water was stopped after the local farmers failed to collect the amount they have to pay to the other side for carrying out necessary repairs in the water canal.
“During the Flag meetings,” Imtiyaz said, “Sadpora villagers hold deliberation on amount they have to pay to the other side so that the water is diverted through Qazi Nalla to their agriculture fields.”
Equally woeful is the picture of Dragad-Teetwal where 105 households still lack road connectivity, dispensary, ration depot and other basic facilities. Like in other parts of Karnah, the locals are known for practising halla-sheri — the custom of contributing free labour to the community.
“Before 1989, lot was happening in Teetwal,” said Zameer Ali, a teacher. “Leprosy patients would gather at the small mosque at Chhatkadi village, adjacent of Ziarat Treda Sharif,” Ali said. A handful of earth was thought to heal the patients. The tradition ended after guns rattled and suspicion started.
Some locals became supposed double agents and went on to suffer for it. “We have heard all types of names for us — be it informers, collaborators or agents,” Ali said. “All these name-callings left us perturbed and made our plight akin to the dog in Saadat Hasan Manto’s celebrated short story.”
Saadat Hasan Manto. In his short story,Teetwal ka Kutta (The Dog of Teetwal), a stray dog darts between Indian and Pakistani army camps. Soldiers on both sides treat it like a pet, but then also start suspecting him of spying. Indians put a collar tag on the dog, “Chapad Jhun Jhun”—a claptrap phrase that jitters Pakistanis. And thus started suspicion: Was the dog an Indian agent, spying on the Pakistanis? When interrogated, the dog could only wag its tail in response.
The story ends with the dog running around in no man’s land. To force it into the enemy camp, both the Indians and Pakistanis soldiers shoot around the scared stiff animal. No sooner they kill the dog, a voice in Mantoo’s short story resounds: “Wahi maut mara, jo kutte ki hoti hai.” (He died like a dog.)
Some of Teetwal’s supposed double agents also vanished in the games that are routine on borders.
But today, Karnah remains immune to militant politics, according to locals. Many local militants of yore are now settled in Pakistan. Even then, the security throes remain. Surrounded from three sides by Pakistan and on fourth side by Sadhna Top, Karnah is still considered as the security cum strategic terrain. It is so difficult that American Chinooks rescuing people in Neelam valley for Pakistan in recent past ended up landing in Karnah!
Seemari, last LoC village, divided into two parts. The last village on LoC ahead of Teetwal needs another security clearance. As the vehicle rumbled on the dusty roads unlike the clean, metallic blacktop on the opposite side, a young girl sat on a ridge— absorbingly gazing the women washing their dishes on the other side. Her appearance almost made it apparent — she was perhaps craving for the reunion.
Ahead of her, last LoC village called Seemari stands divided between both sides. A shell-victim and Sarpanch of this village talked about the villagers’ agony to regularly see their relatives on the other side without going to meet with them amid lurking pickets atop hills.
On the opposite side, a man was strolling on his farmland. He waived at the visitors of this side who reciprocated the gesture warmly. Such silent greetings are common in Teetwal and Seemari. Even Pak Rangers could be seen waiving at the visitors of this side.
Without exhibiting any fear of cross-LoC fireworks—a non-existent event on ground—kids on the other side were busy playing cricket. Life on this side was also staggering.
Perhaps people in Seemari and Teetwal have learned to fake normalcy—with or without flare-ups.
As India and Pakistan are shelling each other’s positions, it is the civilian population that suffers the worst. Bilal Handoo spent a day with the people in Teetwal—almost 200km from Srinagar—that is living in the fear of a war, perpetually, a situation that has impacted their socio-economic l...
The ghosts of Machil
by Jyoti Thottam@jyotithottam March 20, 2015 5:00AM ET In Kashmir, a rare guilty verdict for Indian army officers who killed three local men offers hope for the future View comments
Ghulam Nabi Lone, an uncle of Mohammad Shafi Lone, at Shafi’s grave and those of his friends Shahzad Ahmad Khan and Riyaz Ahmed Lone in Nadihal, India, March 18, 2015. The three youths were killed by the Indian army in April 2010. Kuni Takahashi for Al Jazeera America
NADIHAL, India — At 3 o’clock in the morning of April 30, 2010, a unit of the Indian army’s 4th Rajput Regiment was patrolling an area of the Line of Control, the de facto border that divides Kashmir between India and Pakistan. The soldiers were in a sector called Machil, near the Sonapindi Pass, where the foothills give way to mountains — a notorious route for armed groups infiltrating India. The soldiers “observed three persons moving suspiciously in own territory,” according to a report they filed the next day. “Sensing situation, the party commander alerted his troops, allowed terrorists to close in. At a closed quarter, 50-70 m, terrorists noticed our party and opened fire on them. Unmindful of the volley of bullets, our ambush party returned fire resulting killing of three terrorists.”
The army asked villagers in Sonapindi to bury the three men and added them to the tally of 40 “unidentified foreign militants” — fighters from Pakistan — killed in 468 infiltration attempts that year. The deaths were also added to another grim statistic: the thousands of anonymous graves found all over the hills along the LOC. The International People’s Tribunal on Human Rights and Justice has documented 2,943 such graves in three border districts of Kashmir. The area is the front line in the long-running conflict over territory between India and Pakistan and ground zero of an armed Kashmiri separatist insurgency.
But the bodies buried at Machil did not remain anonymous. Three Kashmiri families claimed the men as their sons, laborers, they said, who had nothing to do with Pakistan.
Their deaths have reverberated far beyond the mountains. Police and local activists say they were killed not in the heat of battle but by soldiers motivated by greed and a draconian law, the Armed Forces Special Powers Act, that they knew would protect them from civil prosecution. Meenakshi Ganguly of Human Rights Watch, who has written extensively on the region, says, “This particular case became an example of everything that had gone wrong in Kashmir.”
But the story of Machil — told through interviews with the families of the men who were killed and extensive access to the police records documenting the incident — has also become a sign of what’s possible. It set in motion a rare prosecution by the Indian army of its own soldiers, with the last verdict being announced just last week, and a chance to finally end Kashmir’s decadeslong cycle of violence. Ganguly says, “Machil is the beginning.” Three boys from Baramulla
After a 2003 cease-fire between India and Pakistan, Baramulla, the traditional trading center of Indian Kashmir, was briefly a symbol of everything that has gone right in the region. Though the main road there had become impassable during the height of the separatist insurgency in the early 1990s, India later rebuilt it in an effort to encourage cross-border trade.
In this fragile peace, the people of Baramulla district patch together a living. They eat rice from the paddy fields that haven’t yet been sold to developers, sell fruit in the markets whenever the roads are open and, failing all that, send their sons out to work as day laborers on construction sites all over the Kashmir Valley. It is a tenuous existence, but better than the open conflict of the previous decade, when young men could choose only between two kinds of exile: the life of a migrant laborer or a militant.
Nadihal, in Kashmir in northern India, March 18. Kuni Takahashi for Al Jazeera America
These difficult choices about how to earn a living are made every day inside the brick houses of Nadihal, a village about seven kilometers (roughly four miles) west of Baramulla town where sheep, chickens and pony carts make up the only traffic. In a brightly painted room — green walls, yellow door, pink flowered curtains — Shahzad Ahmed Khan’s mother, Ayesha, talks about her eldest son. At 25, he was married with a 6-year-old child, and his only steady work was packing apples in the orchards of a neighbor. He would sometimes hitch rides to Srinagar or Baramulla for jobs, Ayesha says. “He would go with whoever paid him more.”
No matter where he went, Shahzad always carried two things in the pocket of his black checkered woolen tunic, or pheran: his mobile phone and a small diary in which he kept careful accounts of how much money he owed other people and what they owed him. One day in April 2010 Shahzad met a neighbor, Bashir Ahmed Lone, who promised him 500 rupees (about $8) for a day’s work as a porter for the army. Bashir arranged for an SUV and driver to take him to the army base at Kalaroos. Shahzad came back that day humiliated; his mother says he hadn’t been paid.
Riyaz Ahmed Lone, a handsome 20-year-old motorcycle mechanic, had a similar offer, according to his father, Yusuf. (Lone is a common surname in Kashmir, and they are not related to Bashir.) The second of eight children, Riyaz liked to wear track suits and left his brown hair long enough to tumble into his eyes. He worked with Yusuf at a motorcycle workshop and earned about 3,000 rupees a month, but constantly complained, “My pay is too little.” Riyaz went to Kalaroos without telling his parents, anticipating that they would be angry. When he got back, they warned him that he would lose his job. He told his parents he had a chance to double his pay from the first day. His mother, Naseema, says, “We never saw it, but he said he got 500 rupees.”
Mohammad Yusef Lone, father of Riyaz Ahmed Lone, at his house in Nadihal.Kuni Takahashi for Al Jazeera America
Mohammad Shafi Lone’s family members in front of their house in Nadihal. Kuni Takahashi for Al Jazeera America
On April 29, Bashir again sent the SUV to Nadihal. Shahzad didn’t tell his mother where he was going, but at about 9:30 a.m., he left the house, saying, “I’ll be back at 4.” Riyaz left his house the same morning, saying only, “I’ll be back by 2 p.m.”
Mohammad Shafi Lone, 19, lived just down the lane from Riyaz. Shafi had a tractor for gathering apples but “would do all kinds of work” as long as it was close to home, according to his father, Abdul Rashid. Shafi had just one goal, his father said: to save enough for the weddings of his four rose-cheeked sisters. On the morning of April 29, Abdul Rashid said, his son spoke to someone while working just outside their courtyard and left.
When Shafi didn’t come home that night, Abdul Rashid went looking for him and soon realized that there were two other families keeping the same vigil. “For eight days we regularly called him,” says Shahzad’s mother. Riyaz’s mother, Naseema, was sure that their neighbor Bashir had something to do with her son’s disappearance and hounded him, demanding, “Why are you at home?” when her son was not. “He was rotten,” Naseema says. Bashir was employed as a “special police officer,” a euphemism for “informer.” SPOs, used by state police all over India, are paid a small monthly salary to feed information to the local police about the goings-on in their village. Naseema uses another word for him: “All the village will say he is an Ikhwani.”
For Kashmiris, “Ikhwani” is spoken with the special revulsion reserved for those who betray their own and refers to a breakaway faction of the armed group the Hizb ul Mujahideen, whose members became double agents for India. The Indian security forces had a small band of former militants-turned-paid informers, or “mukhbir.” It was an effective strategy but left behind a horrific legacy of fear. In “Curfewed Night,” his memoir of growing up during the militancy of the 1990s, Basharat Peer describes being summoned to appear before an informer waiting in an armored car: “Each man was asked to stop near the window and show his face to the masked mukhbir,” he writes. “If the informer raised his hand, the soldiers pounced upon the suspect and took him away for interrogation.”
Bashir denied having anything to do with the disappearance of the three young men. But a neighbor, Fayaz Ahmad Wani, said the trio had left with Bashir, and on May 10, the three families filed missing-person reports. Shahzad’s brother also lodged a complaint, accusing Bashir of kidnapping. He was arrested 10 days later and remains in custody in Kashmir as his trial proceeds. His lawyer, Abdul Wajid Watali, says Bashir is innocent. “Why didn’t they inform the local headman (about the disappearance)?” he asks. “Why they didn’t file a complaint before police for days together? Why they waited for long?” The ambitious officer
The missing-person case fell under the jurisdiction of Altaf Khan, the superintendent of police or SP of Sopore, a district that is considered the ideological home of the pro-Pakistan separatist movement. At the time, this was one of the few places in Kashmir where armed groups seemed to be gaining strength: About 50 fighters were believed to operate in Sopore with logistical support from a population of 300,000. Khan was assigned the career-making task of flushing out terrorists and their sympathizers from the area. “Should I be honest about it?” he asks. “To me, out of every six, one is working for a terrorist or is a terrorist.”
Tall, broad-chested and voluble, Khan, who has since been promoted to another district, lives in a spacious two-story house in one of Srinagar’s new housing developments with his wife, a banker, and their children. He entered law enforcement more than 14 years ago after abandoning a career as a scientist, and he approaches his work with academic detachment, writing action plans and papers about emerging trends in terrorism. Without guidance, he says, young people in Sopore fall prey to terror networks that offer them money to buy SIM cards, procure supplies or act as “mules” for weapons. He has tried community policing, drug de-addiction camps and “moral education” to win them over, he says, but “People are very reluctant.”
The disappearance of three laborers normally would not merit the attention of the SP, but this case intrigued him because of the alarming possibility that these young Kashmiris might have crossed the LOC to be trained in Pakistan, as thousands did in 1989. That earlier generation of indigenous separatists has been killed or co-opted or has just grown old, but there is a growing fear among security experts of a new uprising of Kashmiris joining the armed groups operating in Pakistan. “From the case-study point of view it’s very interesting, whether the locals are lured toward terrorism or not,” Khan says. “So that is actually what captivated me toward it.”
Indian soldiers on patrol in Baramulla, about 40 miles northwest of Srinagar in Kashmir, March 18. Kuni Takahashi for Al Jazeera America
The police began with Bashir. Under interrogation, Khan said, Bashir implicated two other men, Abbas Husain Shah and Abdul Hameed Bhat, who both worked as paid informers for the army. There are few other good sources of intelligence about terrorist activity in Kashmir, according to Maj. Gen. Dipankar Banerjee, a retired Indian army officer who served in Kashmir, including in Machil. Telephone intercepts rarely reveal detailed plans, and Indian intelligence services are believed to have few, if any, human agents on the other side of the LOC. They rely on paid informers, Banerjee says. “Without them, an operation cannot succeed.”
Before he was taken into judicial custody, Abbas described his work in an interview with The Indian Express newspaper. He said his handler was Maj. Upendra Singh, an Indian army officer stationed in Baramulla, and Abbas’ job was to feed him intelligence about suspicious people in town and the surrounding villages. In April 2010, Singh had a bigger job for him: “Major sahib [Singh] asked to arrange few young men and told me that we have to send them across to Pakistan.” The men would be asked to help fighters trying to enter Indian Kashmir, carrying weapons for them and serving as their guides through the mountains. It was a clever ruse. Local Kashmiris frequently act as paid guides to groups of foreign fighters. “The infiltrators depend upon them,” Banerjee says.
Abbas asked Hameed for help and Hameed roped in Bashir. They recruited Shahzad, Riyaz and Shafi from Nadihal, brought them to the army base at Kalaroos on April 29 and got their reward: 150,000 rupees, two bottles of whiskey and two bottles of beer. Police later found 50,000 rupees in cash in a raid of Bashir’s house. Phone records submitted as evidence show numerous calls between Singh, Abbas and Hameed in the weeks leading up to April 29. Under interrogation, Abbas said the laborers had been brought to Machil and were killed on April 30 in a staged encounter made to look like a firefight. It was the same incident described so vividly as an ambush at close quarters in which the army men described shooting three “terrorists” crossing the LOC, “unmindful of a volley of bullets.”
Naseema Begum, the mother of Riyaz Ahmed Lone, holding a picture of him, with his younger brother Ubaid.Kuni Takahashi for Al Jazeera America
“Encounter” is the term of art used for extrajudicial killings in India, and it is a shockingly common tool used by the Indian army and state police. Human Rights Watch reported in 2006 that police and army officials in Kashmir admitted “that alleged militants taken into custody are often executed instead of being brought to trial because they believe that keeping hardcore militants in jail is a security risk.”
In Kashmir, the families of men who have disappeared often suspect that they have been killed in encounters, but their complaints are seldom investigated. “You have to match the person with a body,” says HRW’s Ganguly. “That’s the trick.”
With Machil, however, Abbas’ statement matched the three missing laborers with the bodies reported by the army near the LOC. According to procedure, the army must report any killing on the LOC to the local police station. This is meant as a check on the army’s operations and also creates an official record of who was involved in any deadly encounter, which the army takes into consideration when determining raises and promotions. Khan couldn’t believe his luck. “They had actually named the chaps who did that encounter with the terrorists,” he says. “We never needed to prove that they have killed. They were telling on their own that we have killed terrorists. The only thing we had proved was that they were not terrorists. They were civilians.”
The bodies were exhumed, and post-mortems found that all three had multiple gunshot wounds to the head and torso; one also had a fractured skull. DNA analysis of hair, skin and nails matched blood samples from the three sets of parents. The men were reburied in plots adjacent to each other near their homes in Nadihal on May 29, and Khan quickly built the rest of his case. With Abbas’ statement, the DNA reports, mobile-phone records and other circumstantial evidence, Khan says, he did not need to take any of the army men into custody. That is usually a big hurdle when investigating disappearances in Kashmir: The army rarely allows civilian authorities to take custody of active-duty military. “I never needed to arrest anybody,” Khan says. On June 24, he filed charges against the three informers and the eight soldiers named in the Machil report — Abbas’ handler, Upendra Singh; his commanding officer, Col. Dinesh Pathaniya; another major; and five junior enlisted men — charging them with criminal conspiracy, abduction and murder.
Jobeena Shahzad, right, the wife of Shahzad Ahmed Khan, with their son Shahid, center, at their house in Nadihal.Kuni Takahashi for Al Jazeera America
A family photo of Shahzad Ahmed Khan, 27, holding his son Shahid.Kuni Takahashi for Al Jazeera America
The army began court-martial proceedings in 2013, and Singh, Pathaniya and three of the enlisted men were found guilty, stripped of their rank and pension and sentenced to life in prison. Abbas was exonerated. The court martial’s verdicts were announced in November 2014 and put under review for approval by the army’s northern command. In February, the army upheld the five convictions and, additionally, ordered a reinvestigation into Abbas’ case. Last week he, too, was convicted and received a life sentence. His sentence must also be approved by the northern command before it can be carried out. The convicted officers and soldiers have been in custody since 2010, and none of the court-martial proceedings were in open court, so it is impossible to determine how, or if, the soldiers were given any legal representation. All the soldiers involved have two more opportunities to appeal — to an armed-forces tribunal and to the Supreme Court.
Hameed and Bashir are in custody and awaiting trial on conspiracy and abduction charges in a civilian court for allegedly taking money to bring the three men to the border. Their lawyer, Watali, says there is no proof that the three laborers were seen in the company of his clients, other than the statements of the families; the court-martial verdicts have no bearing on the civilian case, he adds. “My contention is that statements of the accused who is now convicted by the court martial are not binding on me.” The meaning of Machil
While the army would like to look at Machil as an aberration, the case has become an emblem of the larger struggles in Kashmir, between the Indian army and civilian authority, between transparency and the fog of war, between Kashmir’s past and its future.
The civilian charges filed against serving army officers represent, in one sense, a clear break from the past, when extrajudicial killings were common but prosecution was rare. “The Machil verdict should mark a turning point for human rights in Jammu and Kashmir,” wrote Shailesh Rai, programmes director at Amnesty International India, when the first convictions were announced in November.
The relative calm prevailing in Indian Kashmir has helped to make this possible. There is also an elected government in Srinagar and a police force that is trying to assert its authority over the army and show that it can maintain law and order on its own. “The police are much more empowered now,” Ganguly says. “A civilian government is much more accountable.” In addition, Indian officials and independent security experts say that popular support for militants has largely dried up, with the remaining terrorist activity rooted in Pakistan.
And yet these peacetime deaths shocked Kashmir even after a decadeslong conflict, in which an estimated 60,000 civilians have died. The three men from Nadihal were not caught in crossfire or in a case of mistaken identity; they were not accidentally killed during interrogation or by soldiers in the heat of battle. Nor were they hardened terrorists subject to frontier justice, a common perception in India of fake encounters. Ajai Sahni, an expert on counterterrorism and director of the Institute for Conflict Management, explains the rationale: Soldiers think, “So the guy is going to get out and again do what he was doing, so shoot him,” Sahni says. “So there is a kind of institutional sanction … This is not that kind of a case.”
Indian soldiers on patrol in Gurez, near the Line of Control, in 2012. Farooq Khan / Getty Images
The motives in Machil, according to the charges filed by police, were more banal: greed and ambition. The 4th Rajput battalion was due to leave the LOC in early May 2010, and until the encounter on April 30, the unit at Machil had reported no successful kills or captures of militants, nor seized any weapons, hurting the officers’ chances for advancement. Khan says that the unit received a 600,000-rupee reward for its report of killing three militants and that it fabricated the seizure memo listing arms and ammunition recovered to bolster its case for promotions.
A 2005 diplomatic cable revealed by Wikileaks raised a warning about the perverse incentives for human-rights abuses in Kashmir, even during peacetime. Officials from the International Committee of the Red Cross told the then-U.S. ambassador to India, David Mulford, that after the 2003 cease-fire and extensive human-rights training, abuses still continue because “security forces need promotions.”
A spokesman for the army’s northern command declined to comment on the Machil case or its significance and referred all questions to army spokesmen in Kashmir, who did not respond to multiple calls and messages seeking comment.
Undisciplined soldiers may commit excesses in any situation, says Sahni, but at the height of the insurgency, “maybe the opportunities for legitimate rewards were higher.” Today maybe some of the commanding officers find themselves kicking their heels in Kashmir and think, “‘It’s an insurgency-affected area,’” he says, ““but I am not getting any opportunity to go out and do anything.’”
The 50,000 rupees paid to each of the three informers seemed to confirm these fears. “They were literally sold,” says Sajjad Lone, a former separatist who is now a state legislator in Kashmir. “Even in the context of a lot of human rights violations in Kashmir, this will attract more outrage.” The final reckoning
Shahzad Ahmed Khan’s brother Showkat Ahmed Khan, left, and father, Ghulam Mohammad Khan.Kuni Takahashi for Al Jazeera America
It began with a small protest organized by the families in Nadihal after their sons disappeared. The anger grew, moving along the Baramulla road to Srinagar in the summer of 2010. During one of those demonstrations, a 17-year-old boy was killed, allegedly by a tear-gas canister fired by security forces. His death sparked wider protests demanding not only justice for the three killed at Machil but also an end to what many Kashmiris consider a 20-year occupation by the Indian armed forces. During the protests, more than 100 Kashmiris were killed by police, fueling the outrage and, according to some security analysts, renewed radicalization among young people who were not even born when the original Kashmiri separatist movement began. Recent clashes in the border areas — by Pakistan-trained fighters as well as local Kashmiris — have added to those fears.
India has a chance to break this cycle of violence. The army insists that military courts like the one that handed down the convictions in the Machil case will hold soldiers accountable for abuses. After two young men were shot and killed in November 2014 at an army checkpoint in Kashmir, the military quickly claimed responsibility and said it would prosecute. But under intense popular pressure, the fragile coalition government in Kashmir has made a repeal or, at least, a scaling back, of the Armed Forces Special Powers Act a centerpiece of its legislative agenda. That will be difficult with a strongman, Narendra Modi, as prime minister, and few in the government willing to challenge the army. Until AFSPA is repealed, many Kashmiris will always view India as an unaccountable, occupying force and the desire for “azaadi,” or independence, will persist.
The army is one of the few institutions in India that is widely respected as meritocratic and disciplined, and the Indian government is unlikely to challenge it, but this is a rare opportunity to raise questions. The armed forces are already on the defensive after a series of corruption scandals over the past few years that have muddied their image. Machil has prompted some further soul-searching. Ajai Shukla, a retired colonel in the Indian army and the strategic affairs editor for the Business Standard newspaper, said the case is the “inevitable outcome” of prolonged counterinsurgency deployment in Kashmir over the last 20 years. “It has deeply corrupted the culture of the Indian army,” he said. “I am almost convinced that there are more Machils that take place which never come to justice.”
Twenty years of counterinsurgency operations have also badly eroded Kashmiris’ faith in India’s institutions. What would restore it? Shukla and many other observers say that only a political settlement in Kashmir and an end to militarization in the region can change the culture of the army. Human-rights groups have called for a comprehensive investigation into all the unsolved disappearances and anonymous graves that pockmark Kashmir’s hills. But there is little political will in New Delhi to subject the armed forces to general scrutiny for past actions. “A lot of unspeakable things have happened,” says M.K. Bhadrakumar, a political analyst and retired diplomat. “What do you gain on the balance sheet when you go to the bottom of the pit?”
Talks between India and Pakistan, meanwhile, have been at an impasse for months, stalled by the recent escalation of cross-border violence and a decision by Pakistan to meet with Kashmiri separatists.
Naseema Begum in the family’s kitchen.Kuni Takahashi for Al Jazeera America
Meanwhile, both countries continue to ignore the unspoken truth about azaadi in Kashmir: that for all their anger, very few Kashmiris on the Indian side of the LOC truly want to leave. The pull of India is strong, and the appeals of Pakistan are few. Yet “azaadi” persists as a hope and a dream. As long as the violence of the past remains unaccounted for, it will mean not just “We want to be free from India” but also “We will never be free to join you.” One day, there may be a reckoning. “The gaps that remain in people’s lives — that has to be accounted for,” says Ganguly. “How hard is it to tell these families that their loved ones are dead? That … truth-telling shows the character of a nation.”
Riyaz’s mother, Naseema, refers to all this, the trouble and fear and doubt, as “the bad halat,” the situation: “This is why people think of India as the enemy.” She has a more immediate fear: reprisal from Bashir and his allies. Still, the families in Nadihal have the peace of mind that comes from knowing what happened to their sons, enough to feel sorry for the families of the other men still buried on the LOC. There have been so many graves that the village religious committees took up the task of marking each one with a piece of metal sheeting nailed to a wooden spike. Shahzad’s mother, Asha, displays the marker for her son’s grave. Painted on it in black Urdu script is the date of burial, a number (Shahzad’s body was No. 2, of three buried in that row), some identification of personal effects (his black checkered robe) and a prayer (“He came from God, and to God he will return”). She treasures this. The other mothers have only ghosts.
It cannot be stated often enough: Targeting civilians not a party to any conflict is both a war crime and crime against humanity under international law. The Indian Army and Border Security Force, and the Government of India, continue to act with impunity from prosecution at home and free from condemnation by the international community for these crimes. How can this keep happening for so many years and yet, despite many raising their voices, there is no attempt by the United Nations Security Council nor any of the Member States, to take a principled stand on protecting these innocent civilians?
As the heavy snow descends on the beautiful mountains and valleys along the 740 kilometres of the Line of Control (LoC) in Azad Jammu & Kashmir (AJK), communities are settling in for another harsh winter. It has been a hard year with fewer tourists visiting in the summer due to COVID-19, and an alarmingly high number of unprovoked artillery and sniper attacks on innocent civilians in ceasefire violations committed by Indian troops. The 2020 tally of such violations is likely to eclipse 2019’s record total of 3,351.
In November there was a major escalation by India. Neelum Valley (Nekrun, Kel, Sharda, Dudhnial, Shahkot, Jura, Nauseri sectors), Leepa Valley (Danna, Mandal and Kayani sectors), Jhelum Valley (Chham and Pandu sectors), Bagh (Pir Kanthi, Sankh, Haji Pir, Bedori and Kailer sectors) and Kotli were all shelled.
The frequency and ferocity of attacks is indicative of an increasingly hostile India and their dangerous disregard for the lives of civilians, and international law. The Pakistan Army responds with appropriate force against the Indian posts to protect the communities but will not fire where there are civilians on the other side of the LoC.
Friday, November 13, 2020 was a particularly black day in Neelum Valley when, under heavy shelling, six people including a small child and a Pakistani soldier were killed. According to government officials, the names of the civilians were Dr. Fayyaz Ahmed, 38, in Dudhnial; Shoaib, 22, in Falakan; Pervez, 40, in Lala; and Sajida, 16, in Karimabad. Two-year-old Adeeb Sudhir from Lala also died from her injuries. Many other civilians, including women and children, were injured, some of them critically. Let us not forget them nor all the others who have fallen victim over the years. Houses, shops and a guesthouse were destroyed. Cattle and other livestock also perished. Villagers whose homes were destroyed find themselves homeless in a harsh winter and meagre, if any, funds to rebuild. Additionally, the loss of livestock and crops seriously affects the income and wellbeing of families. The frequency and ferocity of attacks is indicative of an increasingly hostile India and their dangerous disregard for the lives of civilians, and international law. The Pakistan Army responds with appropriate force against the Indian posts to protect the communities but will not fire where there are civilians on the other side of the LoC.
Citizen journalism using mobile phone cameras have brought as-it-happens news to our fingertips. These clips help change our understanding of what it’s like to be on the ground; the deafening sounds of shelling, gunfire, and the overwhelming fear of the civilians caught in a terrifying situation.
Numerous videos from local citizens showed houses in flames, people with appalling injuries being carried into hospitals, and chaos. A very distressing image showed a young girl who had lost her leg in the shelling, another, a little girl with head injuries. Another particularly disturbing video came from Sharda. With indiscriminate shelling falling all around, terrified girls and teachers at a girls’ school, were running for their lives and hiding in their classrooms and a bunker which adjoins the school. In the bunker, one of many recently built by the Army and government to protect communities on the LoC, thirty or more women and children were huddled together in terror. Outside, others were running and hiding in their classrooms. Citizen journalism using mobile phone cameras have brought as-it-happens news to our fingertips. These clips help change our understanding of what it’s like to be on the ground; the deafening sounds of shelling, gunfire, and the overwhelming fear of the civilians caught in a terrifying situation.
On a recent visit to enjoy the autumn colours of Neelum Valley before the onset of winter, I had visited many of these villages as I headed further up the Valley. Having worked on community assistance projects in AJK including these areas since after the 2005 earthquake to address the impacts of disasters, I continue to visit local communities when possible to understand what is happening in their lives.
I visited the girls’ school in Sharda while stopping for lunch in this picturesque village by the Neelum River. The school is a modern facility recently reconstructed for the community by the Pakistan Army and Government. The school had previously been shelled by Indian artillery located just a few kilometres away over the looming mountains. Too close for comfort but education is important and no location is safe. Several hundred girls from the village and surrounding region, and their very engaging Principal, were excited to be back at school after the extended COVID-19 and summer break. Seeing them again, this time in videos on social media, fearing for their lives as shells exploded around the village and so close to their school, was heartbreaking. Children should never have to live in such fear. Sadly, the threat is real and constant for them and all children and their families in every village along the LoC.
It cannot be stated often enough: Targeting civilians not a party to any conflict is both a war crime and crime against humanity under international law. The Indian Army and Border Security Force, and the Government of India, continue to act with impunity from prosecution at home and free from condemnation by the international community for these crimes. How can this keep happening for so many years and yet, despite many raising their voices, there is no attempt by the United Nations Security Council nor any of the Member States, to take a principled stand on protecting these innocent civilians? It hardly rates a mention.
The long-term impacts on affected communities are significant and desperately sad. Many victims who survive their wounds will carry life-long injuries making it harder for them to live a normal life or care for their families. In almost every village there are the same tragic stories of loss of loved ones and suffering. On my recent visit, I met community members who had been injured in earlier attacks. In Sharda, a man told me tearfully about his son who was killed while working in the field. An elderly gentleman told of his 2-year-old granddaughter who was killed when struck by shell fragments while out playing with her brother. Another elderly man and a woman shared the pain of their injuries and worries about how they will cope in the future. In Jura, I met tiny sad-eyed children recovering from wounds and trauma; a young woman who had horrific injuries to her arm which will require further surgeries and physiotherapy for a long time to come. Another young woman, who was struck in the head and shoulder is no longer able to speak. All these people are a few of many not only in Neelum but other sectors of the LoC.
In Jura, I met tiny sad-eyed children recovering from wounds and trauma; a young woman who had horrific injuries to her arm which will require further surgeries and physiotherapy for a long time to come. Another young woman, who was struck in the head and shoulder is no longer able to speak. All these people are a few of many not only in Neelum but other sectors of the LoC.
All villages of the Valley are perilously close to the LoC and within range of the Indian artillery, automatics and some of sniper fire. Almost thirty percent of AJK’s entire population lives in close proximity to the LoC. In some places, only the Neelum River divides the two sides. In other parts, a few kilometers divide the villages from the Indian posts but in many places the posts are visible on the mountains placing the villagers within sniping distance. In places where there are mountains between, it makes little difference – artillery fire can reach long distances. While many community bunkers have been constructed, the reality is that many people are killed or injured just going about their normal lives by snipers or shells falling on their homes in the night. India has amended the Domicile Act to allow non-Kashmiris from all across India to gain permanent residence, rights to jobs, property and other services in Kashmir, once the sole right of Kashmiris. This is clearly aimed at rapidly changing the demographics of Kashmir from a Muslim majority to Hindu domination.
Villagers are mostly a long way from medical assistance and, if injured, have to travel long distances by foot down the hillsides from their homes, then take a vehicle to the nearest hospital. Although in kilometres, the distances are not great, the mountainous terrain and condition of the roads, particularly in bad weather, make it an agonizing trip. In Kel, the small well-equipped Tehsil Headquarters Hospital (THQ), is staffed by a committed and lively team of medical professionals from both civilian and military backgrounds. In the thick of winter, this excellent community hospital is often covered with almost 2 metres of snow making access a challenge. The only other hospital in the Valley is the District Headquarters Hospital (DHQ) in Athmuqam. These small hospitals are a precious lifeline to communities in times of need. When injuries are too serious, the military airlifts victims to hospitals in the cities.
One of the questions always raised is, why does the United Nations not step in? This is a good question but one to which there doesn’t seem to be an answer. Although all attacks are documented by the United Nations Military Observer Group in India & Pakistan (UNMOGIP) and reported to the UN Secretary-General in New York, no action is ever taken at international level to prevent this violence. UNMOGIP has been on the LoC since 1949, the second-longest UN observer mission anywhere. They move freely to investigate incidents on the Pakistan side of the LoC but are restricted from movement on the Indian side. The mandate is not to intervene but to observe and report, investigate complaints of ceasefire violations and submit its finding to each party and to the Secretary-General. But what is the point if no action is initiated by the United Nations and the Member States to pressure India to cease and desist? While Pakistan has done much to improve its financial controls and is fast moving towards full compliance of international standards, India continues to push to blacklist the country. Yet at the same time, India appears to be escaping the eagle-eye of FATF scrutiny. This is puzzling given the alarming reports about money laundering, corruption, terrorism and other crimes of an international nature that emanate from India.
No matter the level of the threat nor the number of attacks from India, nothing will drive the courageous families of the Neelum Valley and the LoC from their homes. This is their land, their home for generations: Why should they leave? They all hope and pray for peace and that one day they will be able to be united with families who still live in Indian Illegally Occupied Jammu & Kashmir (IIOJ&K).
However, for their Kashmir relatives across the LoC, the future looks grim. In some areas, the villagers just across the line in IIOJ&K are used as human shields. Artillery is placed in villages by the Indian troops as they are aware that Pakistani troops will not fire back on an area where there are civilians.
After years of suffering extensive human rights atrocities by the Indian Army who have impunity from prosecution, any hopes of freedom and self-determination for Kashmiris have been dashed by India’s illegal annexation of Indian Occupied Jammu & Kashmir and the abrogation of Articles 370 and 35A on August 5, 2019, merging it into India as a unified territory. Since then, India has powered ahead in changing many other laws in IIOJ&K to make it even harder to undo the annexation.
India has amended the Domicile Act to allow non-Kashmiris from all across India to gain permanent residence, rights to jobs, property and other services in Kashmir, once the sole right of Kashmiris. This is clearly aimed at rapidly changing the demographics of Kashmir from a Muslim majority to Hindu domination. Property and real estate laws have also been rapidly amended or new ones written to attract big investors from India and allow outsiders to buy land. Incentives are being offered to bring new Hindu settler colonialists. This is detrimental to the status of Muslim Kashmiris and may ultimately force them to leave to find safety and work elsewhere. Meantime, some 800,000 Indian troops keep Kashmiris in a state of fear and lockdown, and the LoC remains a dangerous place for civilians on both sides.
What happens along the LoC due to Indian aggression should also be seen as part of the bigger picture, of how it fits into a larger agenda to destabilise and isolate Pakistan. In the 14th November briefing by Pakistan’s Foreign Minister, Shah Mahmood Qureshi, and the Director General of Inter-Services Public Relations (ISPR), Major General Babar Iftikhar, the key points of a meticulously evidenced dossier on India’s long proxy war against Pakistan were laid bare. This included funding – often channeled through banks in third countries – to provide weapons, equipment, infiltration and training to support terrorist attacks in Pakistan. Balochistan, Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, Sindh, Azad Jammu & Kashmir, and Gilgit-Baltistan were all identified as targets of India’s proxy war.
The dossier drew attention to India’s covert activities within AJK including the Research and Intelligence Wing’s (RAW) involvement in planting of Improvised Explosive Devices (IEDs) in AJK to kill civilians and military personnel. Other intelligence revealed plans to stage terrorist attacks on large public events in AJK or Gilgit-Baltistan, and to assassinate a high-profile figure. As is the case on targeting of civilians, the aim is always to destabilise and generate public anger against the government and military. Recent threats from India’s military and political leadership to ‘take back AJK and Gilgit-Baltistan’ are a further indication of the increasing aggression and threat to regional stability. Any such attempt would not end well for India.
Isolating Pakistan financially and economically has long been one of the hallmarks of India's hostility. Evidence unearthed indicates how India lobbied heavily in the international community to have Pakistan placed on the global Financial Action Task Force (FATF) ‘blacklist’. Although this has not been successful, it has had implications for Pakistan which has found itself on the ‘grey list’. While Pakistan has done much to improve its financial controls and is fast moving towards full compliance of international standards, India continues to push to blacklist the country. Yet at the same time, India appears to be escaping the eagle-eye of FATF scrutiny. This is puzzling given the alarming reports about money laundering, corruption, terrorism and other crimes of an international nature that emanate from India.
A recently leaked report from the United States Department of Treasury Financial Crimes Enforcement Network (FinCEN) revealed that 44 State-owned and private banks in India had conducted suspicious transactions totalling more than USD 1 billion between 2011 to 2017. FinCEN’s stated mission is “to safeguard the financial system from illicit use and combat money laundering and promote national security through the collection, analysis, and dissemination of financial intelligence and strategic use of financial authorities.” FinCEN is a powerful agency with extensive global reach. That they have been investigating India’s money laundering activities raises the question again, ‘Why is India allowed to act with impunity for a long list of financial crimes committed by State-owned enterprises and their clients?’ Surely this should raise alarm bells, so how does India convince the international community to ignore this?
The answer again appears to lie in a number of areas. India has conducted extensive high-level lobbying with key member countries of FATF to cover their own tracks and push for Pakistan to be black-listed for allegedly funding terrorism in the region. India has invested heavily over the years in its anti-Pakistan narrative and ‘backroom’ deals to keep India from the kind of international scrutiny it deserves. A number of seemingly innocuous think tanks and organisations funded by India’s intelligence agencies, operate in Europe to push a pro-India, viperous anti-Pakistan narrative with European and other governments, UN and international organisations. These fit into the overall agenda of attempts to demonize and isolate Pakistan in the international arena.
Since the dossier on India’s support of terrorist activities in Pakistan was released, India has responded with another ‘false flag’ operation, this time in Nagrote, IIOJ&K, to draw attention away from the outcry. Despite clear evidence to the contrary, India’s Prime Minister Narendra Modi immediately took to Twitter to make wild unsubstantiated allegations about Pakistan to tarnish Pakistan not only with FATF but also the incoming U.S. President, Joe Biden. False-flags operations killing Kashmiris in fake encounters have long been India’s default modus operandi to divert attention every time a spotlight is shone on their covert activities elsewhere and policy failures at home. This one was no different.
India’s potential for trade and defense deals also plays a role in why countries are overlooking India’s rogue behaviour and horrendous violence against Muslims not only in IIOJ&K but across India. Countries aiming to counter China’s growing influence in Asia by supporting India is also having an impact. India has also been lobbying in countries which provide aid to Pakistan to deter them from humanitarian and much-needed development assistance in Azad Jammu & Kashmir with the implied threat of ‘reviewing bilateral relations’. These are considerable challenges for Pakistan to overcome. It will take a strong and sustained effort to counter India’s narratives and defeat the subversive elements operating against the interests of Pakistan and build on achievements to date.
In the meantime, life goes on for communities on the LoC. Despite the hardships and the constant threat to their lives the people are resilient, hospitable and welcoming. The scenery is spectacular at any time of the year and waking up in the morning to be surrounded by soaring mountains and glorious views is an unforgettable experience. Increased tourism can bring substantial change. Improving facilities, access roads, and other infrastructure will provide a more prosperous life for communities. This is something India is desperately anxious to prevent.
Communities in Neelum Valley and along the entire LoC are on the frontline, innocent bystanders at high risk from a belligerent neighbour. Their plight should never be forgotten in the bigger picture of addressing India’s dangerous proxy war, the Kashmir Dispute and their regional ambitions. Ceasefire Violations deliberately targeting civilians continue with increasing frequency and ferocity. It has to stop! The UN Security Council and the UN High Commission for Human Rights have a duty to protect all civilians who are not parties to a conflict wherever they are in the world. This duty must be honored.
The writer is an Australian Disaster Management and Post-Conflict Reconstruction & Rehabilitation Advisor who lives in Islamabad. She consults for Government and UN agencies and has previously worked at both ERRA and NDMA.
It cannot be stated often enough: Targeting civilians not a party to any conflict is both a war crime and crime against humanity under international law. The Indian Army and Border Security Force, and the Government of India, continue to act with impunity from prosecution at home and free from...
Kargil War, nineteen years on...
CNBC-TV18 • July 26, 2018 10:09 AM IST
By Shome Basu
A Bakhrawal child holds an infant along the Meena bagh road in Kargil district. The life along the LoC is between the flying bullets and shells. The Bakhrawal tribe helped Indian intelligence agencies and the Indian army with vital inputs about intruders on the remote high hills.
A Bofors battlegun doing its regular excercise facing Pakistan.
A civilian vehicle moving along the Kargil mountain road.The beauty of the landscape is immense but with boambarding and ammunation usage the ecology is getting affected.
An Indian army officer watches a civil ammenities truck with Tiger Hill on the background.
An Indian army personnel practicing at the shooting range in Dras as they have to be equipped and alert 24x7.
An Indian army personnel practicing target at the shooting range in Dras as they have to be equipped and alert 24x7
Bofors battlegun in station.
Dry arid road at the cold desert of Kargil Ladakh sector
Indian army men doing calculations while doing the Bofors gun exercise in firing the heavy shell at the Kargil sector.
Indian army men patrolling Zoji-La due to an important strategic connect which if attacked can be an havoc to Indian security both by Pakistan and China.
Tiger hill looms large in the distance. Should we admire its beauty or allow ourselves to recall its war-ravaged landscape, shelled from both sides of the border 19 years ago? I was on the way to Kargil where the great proxy war took place during the summers of 1999 and later 2009. But first we...
Rather oddly, most of the pics from the article don't load in this thread but they are excellent shots and display this sub-sector and the IA activities in good detail, make for good viewing. Remaining pics can be accessed at the link above, if mods can pitch in and are able to add pics to the thread, it would be great. @krash@waz@The Eagle