LoC: Caught between shells and hardening winter
An uneasy calm prevailed along the Line of Control (LoC) in Kashmir on Saturday, a day after the deadliest flare-up of the year left five soldiers and four civilians dead on the Indian side, but the ordeal for the victims on both sides appears to have just begun as winter sets in.
The exchange of fire also claimed the lives of five, including a two-year-old boy and an unspecified number of soldiers, in Pakistan-occupied Kashmir. Dozens have been injured on both sides.
Social media was flooded with videos and pictures revealing the extent of the damage. There are houses up in flames, injured children writhing in pain and animal carcasses lying scattered.
Officials said there were no reports of fresh shelling in any of the sectors along the LoC on Saturday.
The Uri area of north Kashmir bore the brunt of Friday’s day-long shelling. All the four civilians who died in the Pakistani shelling were from the area. Two died in Kamalkote village, one in Guhalan village and one in Balkoot village of the Hajipeer sector.
The four deceased persons include seven-year-old boy Afrar and a woman identified as Farooq Begum, 36.
Balkoot resident Abdul Samad Parrey, whose wife Saibi Begum is the local sarpanch, said the shelling had claimed the life of Farooqa Begum, the mother of four young children.
“She was in an upper storey of her house when it was hit by a shell. She died immediately. Other family members, including her children, were on the ground floor and survived,” Parrey told The Telegraph over phone.
“The woman’s youngest daughter is only 18 months old. They are all crying and God knows what is in store for them in the future.”
Parrey said the area was rained with shells and four houses in his village caught fire.
“The woman died around noon but for the next five hours nobody could go to her home as shells continued to land on our village. We had seen such firing in the late 1990s and early 2000s. Most residents stayed awake through the night but thankfully there was no more shelling,” he said.
The cross-border shelling on Friday started in the Kiren sector of Kupwara district after a group of militants tried to infiltrate. The firing soon spread to border areas of Baramulla and Bandipore districts in Kashmir and Poonch in Jammu.
Churanda resident Lal Din Khatana said dozens of houses were damaged in Uri in Friday’s shelling and the winter would worsen their woes.
“It rained today in Uri and amidst this several families have been rendered homeless. The families who have lost their homes have shifted to the houses of relatives or neighbours. Some are staying in their partially damaged houses,” he said.
The fierce exchange of fire has left four soldiers and a BSF sub-inspector, Rakesh Doval, dead.
The defence spokesman in Srinagar on Saturday identified the four slain soldiers as Havaldar Hardhan Chandra Roy and Naik S.B. Rameshrao from the Maratha Light Infantry who died in Gurez, and Gunner Subodh Ghosh and Sepoy J. Rushikesh Ramchandra from an artillery regiment based in Uri.
The death and destruction have triggered outrage in the Valley, with politicians calling for calm.
Former chief minister Mehbooba Mufti said it was high time for India and Pakistan to begin talks.
“Sad to see mounting casualties on both sides of the LOC. If only the Indian & Pakistani leadership could rise above their political compulsions & initiate dialogue. Restoring the ceasefire agreed upon & implemented by Vajpayee ji & Musharraf sahab is a good place to start,” Mehbooba tweeted.