The life of the people of Azad Jammu and Kashmir, especially the ones living near the LOC, has been made miserable by the indiscriminate ceasefire violations by the Indian forces. Not only the physical pain and loss, but also the mental and psychological trauma has become the norm for the people.
Kashmir has often been described as a "heaven on earth," and rightly so, because apart from its natural beauty, it is also the land of sufis and saints. The Kashmir Valley presents proverbial scenic beauty with snow-capped mountains and flowing streams, lush green forests, and evergreen meadows. It also boasts lakes and gardens, which are tourist attractions for people. But can the beauty of nature conceal the ugly political realities—the Indian bombs and bullets to which innocent people of this once-peaceful land have been subjected?
A six-year-old boy Madni Qamar was killed and six other children were wounded after a cluster bomb they were tampering with exploded. The incident took place on March 27, 2022, in Chamola Nokot, a border village in the Leepa Valley of Azad Kashmir. "My son Madni and his six friends were playing near the ceasefire line. They found a toy-shaped device there. They were playing with it when it went off, leaving my son dead on the spot and six others critically wounded," said Madni’s 54-year-old father, Qamar Din. Madni’s friends were shifted to a hospital where they survived.
The father of seven, Qamar Din, was in Rawalpindi, where he works as a labourer, when this incident took place. He said that his family rang him up and informed him about the incident. He immediately rushed to his village. It took him 10 hours to reach home, which is bang on the United Nations-monitored ceasefire line.
"It was hard to believe that my son was no more. My family members were in deep shock. They were wailing. The villagers had gathered there in ritual mourning. Every eye was tearful when my son was lowered into the grave. I lost my son only because we live in Kashmir. I was told that his mother was preparing to offer evening prayers and his siblings were waiting for him to return, but instead they received his dead body. There has been peace along the ceasefire line for about a year now, but we continue to lose our children anyway." Qamar Din said, "My son was brilliant. He wanted to join Pakistan Army to liberate Kashmir from the Indian occupation. Children ask for toys, but he always asked me to bring Pakistan Army uniforms for him. He used to say that when he would become an army officer, he would not let him work. I would smile thinking I want to do everything possible for his education, but I was unaware of what was in store for me.
This is how our life is, peace or no peace: we bury one today, another tomorrow, and a third one the day after. It has been like this for the last 75 years. This is a never-ending cycle, and there is no solution in sight. Our day begins with someone’s death and ends with his or her burial. We are born to mourn the deaths of our loved ones. We have been carrying the coffins of our loved ones for decades now.
On September 19, 2022, 24-year-old Qadeer Munir Mughal and 16-year-old Amjad Munir Mughal were killed when a dud shell they were reportedly tampering with exploded in the forest near Palari village in Neelum Valley, some 234 kilometres northeast of Islamabad. Their youngest brother, 14-year-old Sajid Munir, narrowly escaped.
"We went to a nearby forest in the morning with my wife, Shahnaz Bibi, and our three sons–Qadeer Munir, Sajid Munir, and Amjad Munir–to gather firewood ahead of the winter season. Up until midday, our sons gathered firewood. My wife and I brought the firewood home, and our children kept gathering more firewood,” 48-year-old Munir Mughal said, adding, "My wife made lunch for the children after she got home, and we both brought them lunch.”
When they reached the forest, Sajid was there, but Qadeer and Amjad were not. Sajid had no idea where they were.
“We began looking for our two sons, Qadeer and Amjad, in the jungle, where we subsequently found their bodies covered in a pool of blood. We were shocked to find the dead bodies of two young sons. At first, we thought a leopard might have attacked them."
However, officials later acknowledged that their sons were killed by a cluster bomb after examining their dead bodies and finding splinters on them.
Munir’s family lives in a mud house that has one room, one washroom and a kitchen. So parents and their grown up children have been living in that single room for decades. That’s where they eat and sleep. When it rains, this mud house, which was partially damaged by Indian fire, leaks.
Munir was a truck driver. Ten years ago, he was told that he had diabetes and hepatitis C and that he should stop driving. When he had to stop driving, his oldest son, Qadeer, was 14 years old. He was forced to quit school to help support his family. Since then, he has been working as a labourer in a local market to support his family, buy medicine for his father, and pay for the education of his younger brothers. He was nevertheless unable to meet the expenses. Amjad, his younger brother, began working part-time at a mobile phone repair shop to support his family. Amjad wants to support his family by studying to be an engineer.
Munir Mughal, who lost his two young sons, was devastated and died due to a heart attack on January 20, 2023, shortly after this interview. In his interview, he had sought financial assistance from Azad Jammu and Kashmir government for repairing his house and supporting his family.
Except for a few years following a 2003 ceasefire along the border, the region has remained a virtual war zone until February 2021. Indian forces mainly used mortars, artillery shells, rockets, cluster bombs, and sniper guns to target these areas. The fire had always been indiscriminate and disproportionate, and it almost always hit the civilian population. People continue to die even after there is peace along the ceasefire line.
In the populated areas of Neelum Valley and Leepa Valley, India fired plenty of cluster bombs in the 1990s and 2000s, and as a result, several people were killed and wounded. Most of them were children. Cluster bombs eject explosive bombs that are designed to kill personnel and destroy vehicles. Cluster bombs release many small bomblets over a wide area, posing risks to civilians both during attacks and afterwards.
Convention on Cluster Bombs
Cluster munitions are prohibited for those nations that ratify the Convention on Cluster Munitions adopted in Dublin, Ireland, in May 2008. The Convention entered into force and became the binding international law upon ratifying states on August 1, 2010, six months after being ratified by 30 states. As of April 1, 2018, a total of 120 states have joined the Convention, including 103 parties and 17 signatories.
The UN-monitored ceasefire line dividing the region of Kashmir between Azad Kashmir and Indian Illegally Occupied Jammu and Kashmir (IIOJK) is one of the most militarized boundaries in the world. Tens of thousands of troops are deployed along this 740 km (460 mile) border. A ceasefire brokered by the United Nations to end the first war in 1947-48 led to the division of the region and the establishment of a ceasefire line.
Hostilities broke out again in 1965 and then in 1971. Peace negotiations and a subsequent agreement between the two sides in 1972 led to readjustments of ceasefire line and its redesignation as the Line of Control (LOC). At some places, the line splits villages and bisects mountain watersheds.
In Azad Kashmir, just over 600,000 people live in areas close to the ceasefire line. Some 103,000 people live within the 500-metre radius of the ceasefire line, and another 506,000 people live within the two-to five-kilometre radius of the ceasefire line. They are within the range of Indian fire. The areas close to the ceasefire line served as battlegrounds between India and Pakistan during the 1947-48, 1965, 1971, and 1999 wars, causing much damage to the civilian population. The origin of present hostilities can be traced back to 1988, when an armed struggle in IIOJK was underway. As the anti-India movement intensified, so did India’s punitive strikes in the areas close to the ceasefire line in Azad Jammu and Kashmir, making life miserable for civilians caught in this conflict.
According to the data collected by Azad Kashmir’s Revenue Department and State Disaster Management Authority (SDMA), more than 1000 civilians, including men, women, children, and the elderly, were killed and over 5000 injured due to Indian shelling and firing during the 1989-2021 period.
This does not include the figures for Jhelum Valley, Leepa Valley, and Neelum Valley for the 1989-97 period. These areas were the worst affected before the 2003 ceasefire.
Since 1988, hundreds of houses, shops, and government buildings, including schools and hospitals, have been flattened, and thousands of people have moved to safer areas, leaving the domestic economy in ruins. Others built bunkers for protection during the spells of border fire.
Beyond the immediate losses—the destruction of property, businesses, and infrastructure, and the deaths of loved ones—this conflict is also causing mental and physical effects on children, women, and the elderly. Many of those who survived these atrocities from across have lost their links and live a miserable life. It has deprived generations of proper education, healthcare, and a normal upbringing.
The Indians know the LOC is densely populated, yet they targeted these populations, which can only mean one thing–they are deliberately targeting the civilians.
The writer is a media professional based in Muzaffarabad, Azad Jammu and Kashmir. He writes features and articles on Kashmir in different national and international media organizations.
E-mail: [email protected]
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