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Voices for peace, Editorial, Kashmir Times

20 November 2013

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Kashmir Times, November 20, 2013


Voices for peace

These need to be listened by those at helm in Delhi and Islamabad

A news report by BBC detailing the campaign by women of Neelam valley in Pakistan Administered Kashmir against militants and border crossings is a reflection of two things. One of the inevitable vulnerability of the people sandwiched between the two armies on the two sides of the Line of Control and the unpredictability of situation with the added woes of non state actors wielding the gun. Second, is their unmistakable quest for peace which does not come easily their way and if it does, it comes without the sustainability factor. People living on the borders, unwilling participants in the eyeball to eyeball tensions that often turn into violent hostilities, bear the worst brunt of the border confrontations and would naturally have a great deal of vested interest in ensuring peace. This has been demonstrated beyond a shadow of doubt by the tale of the brave women of Neelam Valley, who have begun massive vigils and protests against the presence of militants even at the great risk of persecution and earning the wrath of atleast a section of the Pakistan military apparatus. Their predicament is one of the worst being sandwiched between high inaccessible mountains on one side and the Line of Control with Indian army soldiers having vantage position on the other, making it even impossible for them to flee in times of dangers as is the case with most other people at the borders on both sides of the divide.

The lives of the people at the borders are at grave risk round the clock on both sides of the Line of Control and they reel under similar multiple miseries of surveillance, unavoidable co-option by army and intelligence sources to work as petty spies and porters without any mechanism of protection and insurance. It is needless to point out their excessive vulnerability when the two armies trade bullets and shells or in the heavily mined villages, fields and meadows.

The recent spate of hostilities have mostly been triggered by mutual suspicions generated on the two sides either due to sightings of militants or due to ongoing work on fortification of bunkers, leading to casualties of not just soldiers on the two sides but also civilians. The vulnerability of these people living on the fringes was well demonstrated some months ago by the report of Indian army allegedly managing to pick up some locals from the Pakistan administered Kashmir side, killing them and passing them off as infiltrators killed in action. The story is not very dissimilar from the fate of about 72 people in Kerni village in Poonch sector on the Indian side who were carried away by the Pakistan army almost two decades ago. Such stories appear to be a routine and may go under-reported due to inaccessibility of these areas and the neglect of these areas both by the respective civil administrations and the media.

It is thus not surprising that the women of Neelam Valley have raised a banner of revolt against the militants even as the extremely powerful Pakistan military establishment may be backing it. Voices for peace and calm at the borders are also gaining strength elsewhere along the Line of Control on both sides, even though these voices find little space in the mainstream. Their long term needs are met not by petty, ill-conceived and corruption riddled Sadbhavna schemes that the government on this side has been trying to offer through the huge army establishment. They would rather be met through a sustainable peace that needs to be built on an enabling and workable ceasefire. The people at the borders on both sides would unanimously agree that in all these decades since 1947, their lives have moved on best in the last one decade that an informal ceasefire agreement was in place. These voices need to be paid heed to, making it imperative for the governments on the two sides to hasten the process of dialogue for an enduring ceasefire at the Line of Control. Let this agreement for truce be formalised and finalised and let the edifice of the larger peace process for rest of the sub-continent be built on that.