With the din of sabre-rattling growing louder every day on the other side, some villagers along the 2,000-km-long India-Pakistan border are becoming increasingly uneasy. Yet others remain oblivious to the threat of another war between the two countries. It all depends on their collective memories.
Although evacuation of villages is yet to be ordered, HT correspondents visiting parts of the Rajasthan, Jammu and Kashmir, and Punjab borders found some villagers already planning to migrate to safer places.
The governments of these border-states have asked district officials to meet villagers in border areas regularly to instill confidence in them and prevent any panic exodus.
AK Jain, Deputy Inspector General, Border Security Force in Bikaner said, “We have not yet received any specific high-alert notice. But the number of personnel has been increased along the border.”
Residents of Jaisindher, the last village on the Munabao border in Rajasthan looked unperturbed. Forty-six-year-old Bhute Khan was spinning his handmade chakri when HT arrived at his hut. He said, “The army was around us for a long time during the 2001 Operation Parakram. But nothing happened at that time.”
But closer to the border, BSF jawans were not quite as relaxed. BSF jawan Binoy Pradhan said, “One can see their movements on the other side.”
UK Bansal, additional Director General of BSF told HT from Jaisalmer that troops had been sensitised. “We are into the professional mode, which is not witnessed during a normal situation,” he said.
Villagers in Punjab’s 250-km sensitive belt — including Gurdaspur, Amritsar, Tarn Taran and Ferozepur — have already braved three full-scale wars. They are thinking of migrating to relatively safer places, if things hot up further.
Fear, however, was most palpable among the people living near the Line of Control (LoC) in J&K. About 101 km away from Srinagar, people in the border tehsil of Uri were scared of being caught in crossfire again. Muhammad Amin of Sultandaki Kamalkote, three km away from LoC, said, “We have to bear the brunt every time. We fear there will be shelling again on the border.” Exchange of fire between the two armies was a routine affair in this area until the declaration of ceasefire in 2003.
In Suchetgarh, an obscure village on the border, about 18 km west of Jammu, there is fear, the situation evoking memories of the troop build-up after the Parliament attack in 2001, and indiscriminate firing on civilians by Pakistani troops.
For the past five years, since the 2003 ceasefire, there has been complete peace along the Indo-Pak border for the first time since Independence. Border villagers have grown used to it and long for it to continue.
(With inputs from Kuldeep Mann in Amritsar, Ashiq Hussain in Uri, Arjun Sharma in Suchetgarh and K. S. Tomar in Jaipur)