Kel Journal; In Torn Kashmir, Frontier Is Aflame Once More

Refugees from Indian Kashmir at a camp in Muzaffarabad, on the Pakistani side of the disputed border.

KEL, Kashmir— In the treacherous mountain terrain along the disputed border between Pakistani and Indian Kashmir, life would be tough enough without war. On precipitous slopes and pocket-sized meadows, rural families raise their crops and animals in isolation at altitudes that demand a mountain climber’s skills.

But war of one kind or another is never far away. Almost every day, groups of exhausted, hungry exiles from Indian Kashmir straggle out of mountain passes and give themselves up to villagers or Pakistani soldiers. They come to escape from Indian troops trying to put down an independence movement with a heavy show of force — or to be trained to go back and keep the Kashmiri fight alive.

Along this border, Pakistani and Indian armies have been fighting “a kind of war” for more than four decades, a Pakistani Army officer said in Rawalpindi. In 1947, 1965 and 1971 it flared into ful-scale conflict.

With the steady spread of insurrection in the Kashmir Valley, for which India officially blames Pakistan, the number of skirmishes are again increasing, sending villagers running from their homes and fields under the muffled booms of artillery. ‘We Are at War’

“A real inferno has been going on here,” Brig. Syed Hassan Abbas Rizvi said as he briefed several reporters who had been flown by helicopter through narrow mountain valleys to the battle area spread over peaks and deep ravines.

“We are at war,” he said. “It may be a local one, but that’s what it is.”

These days, Pakistani military officers like Brigadier Rizvi, commander of the Kel sector, speak with a come-and-get-us confidence about their ability to stop the much larger Indian Army in this border region.

Here on the “line of control,” as the disputed border is formally known, morale is heightened because the local population strongly supports the Indian Kashmiris’ revolt, and sees Pakistan as the only international friend of that independence movement.

On the other side of the border, Indian soldiers and paramilitary troops are harassed and attacked by a hostile rebel population. Kashmiris bring to Pakistan accounts of Indian military indiscipline, corruption and brutality.

Brig. Zahib Zaman, commander of the Neelum Brigade in Muzafarabad, described India’s actions in the valley as a “scorched-earth policy” that relies on “terror and violence.”

At the same time, Indian soldiers have been trying to move their bunkers and other defenses “frighteningly close” to Pakistan, Brigadier Rizvi said. Since late July, he added, four major attacks have taken place in this region, during which firing and shelling of “unusual intensity” were followed by infantry assaults. New Role for Troops

He said that Indian forces were trying to establish defenses in internationally recognized neutral territory.

“The Pakistan Army is not going to allow that,” Brigadier Rizvi said.

The Indian Government makes similar charges, and threats.

The influx of refugees from Indian Kashmir — several thousand in the last few months, officials say — has given border forces a new role in debriefing and sorting arrivals.

“Since the army has been deployed eyeball to eyeball with the Indians since 1948, we are the first to meet people coming across,” Brigadier Zahib said. Among the exiles are many young Indian-Kashmiri men who are “hunted like birds” by Indian troops.

“There is one demand from all these youth coming over,” Brigadier Zahib said. “They want to be trained and armed and go back to fight alongside the others in the valley.”

He and other officers deny that there is any formal training provided. But they readily admit that weapons and lessons on how to use them are available from many private sources in Pakistan, including retired military men. Money comes from relatives and supporters abroad. Made ‘Fit to Fight’

Reporters were taken to a camp for Indian-Kashmiri men near Muzafarabad, the capital of Azad Kashmir, a semi-autonomous Pakistani state. In the camp, several young men among the 2,000 or more Kashmiris 14 to 30 years of age staying there said they represented a host of guerrilla organizations on the Indian side. They said they were being fed well and made “fit to fight,” but were not given arms.

Some of the young exiles said they had been “given numbers” on arrival in Pakistan. When their numbers come up, they said, they will go back across the border. This appears to lend credence to Indian accusations that armed insurgents are being infiltrated systematically.

Brigadier Zahib dismissed the Indian charges of Pakistani Army involvement in guerrilla movements across the border or the smuggling of arms. “The Indians have one line of defense at the border and a second line 6,000 meters to 7,000 meters back,” he said. “Behind that they have what we call choke points. I don’t know how they expect us to stop them if they can’t.”

Courtesy: The New York Times 



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