Villagers along the Indo-Pakistan border skeptical of ceasefire agreement | News on border disputes

Jammu, Kashmir under Indian administration – Milkhi Ram is 80 years old and has witnessed three wars between India and Pakistan in his lifetime.

The thin, silver-haired man has little faith in a rare ceasefire agreement between the two South Asian rivals announced last week.

“The two sides have agreed to strictly adhere to all agreements, agreements and stop pulling along the [Line of Control or LoC] and all other sectors, ”indicates a joint statement issued by the two armies.

But living in Suchetgarh, the last village on the Indian side of the volatile border with Pakistan, some 35 km (21 miles) from the main Indian-administered Kashmir town of Jammu, Ram has reason to be skeptical.

Milkhi Ram, right, outside his home in the village of Suchetgarh [Rifat Fareed/Al Jazeera]

For decades, mortar shells fired by Pakistani cannons arched over a razor-sharp obstacle and landed in Suchetgarh – a nightmare for villagers caught in the crossfire as the armies of the two countries endowed nuclear weapons continued to violate a fragile ceasefire agreement agreed in 2003.

“This time there is calm, but we do not trust these statements,” Ram told Al Jazeera, adding that similar promises in the past “have never lived too long.”

“We have seen these lies since 1947,” he said, referring to the year India gained independence from British rule and was partitioned, leading to the formation of a majority Pakistan. Muslim.

Since then, India and Pakistan have claimed the Himalayan region of Kashmir in its entirety while ruling it in part. The bloody conflict has made the region one of the most militarized regions in the world, with almost daily skirmishes at the borders.

“We live in fear and have to run to other places leaving behind our livestock and crops. We are poor and no one listens to us, ”Ram said from his home in Ranbir Singh Pura area of ​​Jammu, which is surrounded by vast mustard fields tended by farmers – men, women and girls.

The announcement of the ceasefire agreement between India and Pakistan along the LoC is seen as a major thaw in relations between the two nuclear-weapon countries, which have led two of their three wars in Kashmir.

Since 1947, tens of thousands of rebels, civilians and Kashmiri security forces on both sides have been killed in the conflict.

The February 25 ceasefire agreement is also a breakthrough as relations between India and Pakistan have deteriorated since New Delhi abrogated the limited autonomy of Indian-administered Kashmir in August 2019.

But while the guns have been silent on the borders for more than a week, the scars in Suchetgarh are too deep.

In fact, 2020 was the worst year since the 2003 ceasefire, with both armies firing nearly 5,000 times, according to data from India’s Interior Ministry, killing and injuring dozens.

Indian officials said last year’s ceasefire violations were a 48% increase from 2019.

Ratno Devi with his grandchildren in his village near the Indo-Pakistan border [Rifat Fareed/Al Jazeera]

‘Felt like a dark night’

In November 2016, Kamlesh Devi was washing clothes when a shell fell on his house in Suchetgarh, injuring six members of his family. “It was like a dark night, it (the shell) exploded with a bang and everything went dark.”

Devi’s daughter, Sakshi, was injured and blinded in her left eye.

“She lost her sight in her eye which, despite multiple surgeries, has yet to fully win,” Devi, 40, told Al Jazeera. “She can’t watch TV, her friends ask her what happened and she feels stigmatized. She doesn’t want her photos taken.

Devi said medical treatment of her daughter’s eyes couldn’t remove a luster, which got stuck, causing infection.

“We fear for our children. We are not sure of our safety. Life is very difficult here. We are neither safe inside nor outside our home, ”she said.

Kamlesh Devi at home attacked by a shell, which injured her daughter’s left eye [Rifat Fareed/Al Jazeera]

Devi says that every time she looks at her daughter it reminds her of the tragedy they went through.

“It happened to us because we live on the border. Our cattle were also there, one buffalo died and others were injured. There is uncertainty and mental trauma. “

Ratno Devi, a 60-year-old resident of Suchetgarh, says she has never felt peace in her life.

“We don’t trust Pakistan, they can start bombing again,” she told Al Jazeera as she was surrounded by her grandchildren.

“Violence made them orphans”

Injury, suffering and fears reverberate across the volatile 740 km (460 miles) of LoC, with residents along the borders having little confidence that their lives will ever change.

Farooqa Begum was killed on November 13 last year while sorting wood in her attic as a shell landed, killing her, in the village of Balakote.

The village is located near Haji Pir in a remote corner of northern Kashmir, where a stream divides the parts of Kashmir under Indian and Pakistani administration.

Begum is survived by her husband, Bashir Ahmad Dar, a laborer, and five children.

“The youngest is 18 months old. Would these (ceasefire) agreements bring back the dead? Then we would have any confidence, ”Begum’s nephew, Muhammad Maqbool Dar, told Al Jazeera.

“Her husband cannot go to work because he has to take care of the children. The eldest daughter is 16 and she has to cook for the family. The violence made them orphans. “

On the day of Begum’s death, 10 others were also killed along the LoC, including five Indian soldiers.

Dar’s neighbor, Farooq Ahmad, is also skeptical of the ceasefire agreement. “When we go out for work, our hearts are always at home because you never know when the bombing will start,” he said.

‘Only time will tell’

Indian Minister of State for the Interior, G Kishan Reddy, recently told parliament that 70 civilians and 72 security personnel had died in more than 10,000 ceasefire violations along the LoC during over the past three years, while 341 civilians and 364 security personnel were injured.

According to Indian security analyst Rahul Bedi, “only time will tell the finality” of the ceasefire agreement.

“This is an 18-year-old agreement and this agreement has been violated more than it has been observed,” Bedi told Al Jazeera. “It’s quite surprising that this has happened.”

According to Bedi, Pakistan has “little choice but to ease tensions on its eastern borders” with Afghanistan.

Sameer Patil, Fellow for International Security Studies at Gateway House, while admitting that the joint ceasefire statement was “a welcome development”, also expressed a note of caution about its sustainability.

“Given the type of firefight at the borders over the past few months and years, this (deal) is significant. But at the same time, I’m a little cautious.

Milkhi Ram in Suchetgarh is also uncertain. “They only do sumlabazi (pun intended), ”he said, referring to the two South Asian rivals who have been fighting for decades for Kashmir.

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