The moment news about India’s strike across the Line of Control reached Tangdhar town, worried parents rushed to schools to bring their children back home.
Villagers and townspeople near the LoC are worried about the possible return of cross-border shelling, which had claimed dozens of civilian lives in Uri, Tangdhar and Gurez sectors. The ceasefire between India and Pakistan in 2003 had brought relief for villagers but the worries started with the recent deterioration of India-Pakistan relations that peaked with the terrorist attack on an Army base in Uri.
“I came to know about the raids from television and, fearing a reprisal from across the border, I brought my children back from school,” said Mohammad Arshad of Tangdhar town, whose location places it within range of any possible shelling from Pakistan. “Before the ceasefire, shells regularly used to land in our town and villages and dozens of people died. If shelling happens again, it is always the poor who will pay the price.”
The market in Tangdhar shut earlier than usual. “I usually close in the evening but today I went home in the afternoon. There could be reply from Pakistan,” said Iqbal Khan, who runs a shop. “All my neighbours are talking about shelling coming back.”
Border residents had built underground bunkers in the days of shelling but most of those are unusable now, damaged in the 2005 earthquake, and villagers didn’t bother to reconstruct them in view of the ceasefire.
Of the 102 villages in Uri, more than half are within range of Pakistan’s artillery. In the past, misdirected shells had often landed in the homes of civilians. And in the late 1990s, hundreds of villagers had migrated to Baramulla township. “Though it is peaceful here now, we are scared,” admitted Ghulam Nabi Khwaja of Garkote village close to the LoC. “Earlier, we had the safety of underground bunkers, As we no longer have that, we will be sitting ducks if shelling happens.”
During the day, while Uri market was open, shopkeepers and customers kept watching the TV news. “So far nothing has happened in our town or neighbouring villages but villages who live on the zero line left the market early to be with their families,” said Mohammad Ashraf Khan, a shopkeeper.
At Dawar Gurez, shops shut in the afternoon and people of Kazalwan, Neil and Wanpora villages headed to an underground tunnel built for the Kishanganga power project. The Army has restricted movement of civilians in Gurez, especially on the LoC.