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India planning a 'separation wall' in Kashmir

India plans to build a separation wall in the Himalayan region, but rebels have warned against such a move.

Last updated: 21 Dec 2013 15:19
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The proposed separation fence aims to halt 'illegal crossing' by rebel groups into Indian-administered Kashmir [Reuters]

Taking a cue from Israel's proposed separation wall along the Jordanian border, India plans to build a similar but higher 179km long wall in the Indian-administered Kashmir to separate the southwestern portion of the disputed region from Pakistan.

Pakistan and rebel groups fighting in the disputed Himalayan region have, however, warned against such a move.

According to Indian officials, the wall would pass through 118 villages within the three districts of disputed Kashmir and would be 41 meters wide and 10 meters high to accommodate bunkers and check posts.

"It would be one of the most significant Border Guarding System in the country which has not been experimented or created in India before," Dharminder Parikh a top official of India's Border Security Force (BSF) told Al Jazeera.

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The BSF official said the fence would help "stop the illegal crossing by militants" and the requisition of land was sent to the Indian-administered Kashmir government in 2012 but "we have come to know that they there is still some land which has to be bought from the villagers for construction purposes."

Kashmir, a disputed Himalayan region, is divided between nuclear-armed India and Pakistan by a de facto border called Line-of-Control (LoC) and further in the Southwest by a serpentine Ceasefire Line which New Delhi calls the International Border with Pakistan.

The LoC has been coiled by India with several metres high double-row concertina-wire fencing to block armed rebels from entering and launching attacks on Indian soldiers inside Indian-administered Kashmir. The wall always remains electrified and is linked with what many believe are Israeli-made surveillance devices.

Both the South Asian rivals have fought two of their three wars over the disputed Muslim-majority territory and have yet to tackle the core issues of the Kashmir dispute, control and sovereignty of the Himalayan region.

India's plan of construction of a concrete wall  on pattern of Berlin Wall is unacceptable.

- Shabir Shah, Kashmir pro-independence leader

Pakistan controls almost 33 percent of Kashmir, India about 45 percent and China the rest.

Muslim-armed rebels from almost 14 groups are fighting Indian soldiers in Kashmir since 1989 in a confrontation aimed at independence of Kashmir or merger of the territory with Pakistan.

New Delhi often accuses Islamabad of fomenting unrest in Indian-administered Kashmir - a charge Islamabad denies.

Pakistan says it offers moral, political and diplomatic support to Kashmiris fighting against Indian rule.

Both countries have held the decade old ceasefire but sporadic skirmishes are common. Recently both countries traded blame over ceasefire violations along the de facto border in Kashmir.

On September 26, at least 12 people, including four policemen, six army personnel and a colonel were killed when armed rebels raided a police station in Kathua district and later an army camp in the adjoining Samba district. The attackers were believed to have snuck through the Ceasefire Line.

On October 23, Indian officials said Pakistani rangers fired at over 50 positions in the Samba sector, where the wall is coming up, which was "the most extensive ceasefire violation in one night in the past two decades".

Thwarting infiltrations 

Indian officials say they plan to dig a parallel trench along the wall and add a multi-tier screening system to thwart "infiltrations and ceasefire violations" in the area.

An official of Indian interior ministry confirmed to Al Jazeera that the barrier will come up because of security issues and the total cost is still under consideration.

"Security is the most important aspect of it [the fence]. It is a joint project of the Home Ministry, Defence Ministry and the government of Jammu and Kashmir. The total cost on the project is yet to be outlined," said K S Dhatwalia, Additional Director General (Media) of the Indian Home Ministry.

An email questionnaire sought by Dhatwalia for more details on the project, however, elicited no response. But there are growing fears that farmers will be losing prime land to the fence. 

"They have already built a fence on the zero line. Now they want to build this wall very much inside the Indian territory which will not benefit the farmers," says Sham Lal Chowdhary, a pro-Indian politician in the region.

"The farmers have not been compensated for the lands under [existing] fencing and mining areas. They cannot grow crops. This embankment would further squeeze their earnings," he added.

Replica of Israeli separation wall

The plan to erect an all-weather fence along the 740km long LoC that divides mountainous region into Pakistan-administered Kashmir and Indian-administered Kashmir was also presented to then India's Home Secretary R K Singh in 2012, according to defence sources.

That year, a top police officer - who visited Israel and observed the efficacy of the fence along Israeli-Palestine barrier - insisted that the replica of such a fence in disputed Kashmir was possible.

The Berlin wall fell like a pack of cards and occupation of Palestine has not made the citizens of 'Israel' any safer than before. 

Abdul Majid Zargar, a Kashmiri columnist

"But the plan was disliked by the Indian army," sources say adding, "Army officials present in the meeting raised concerns. Their point was that an all weather fencing would isolate villages permanently along the LoC and would also mean giving away large tracts of land along the border."

Officials of the Indian army, sources say, had argued that the terrain and geography in Kashmir makes it much "tougher to replicate" the Israeli-Palestinian separation wall.

The new wall, which is coming on the largely flat areas of the disputed region, has, however drawn criticism from various groups including rebel groups and pro-independence political parties in the disputed Kashmir.

"India's plan of construction of a concrete wall on pattern of Berlin Wall is unacceptable," said Shabir Shah, a pro-independence leader in India-administered Kashmir.

Shah, who is also known as the "Nelson Mandela" of Kashmir for having spent over 25 years in Indian jails said, "The 21st century is not for building political walls along borders but to dismantle them."

The chief of United Jihad Council (UJC) - an umbrella of 14 rebel groups fighting against New Delhi's rule in Kashmir - Syed Sallah-ud-Din, in a statement, said that the move "aimed at converting Kashmir into a prison".

"Construction of the wall along LoC is like the Berlin wall and is aimed to make the occupation of India permanent in Kashmir but the move will be opposed on all the fronts," the group's statement said.

Others have called New Delhi's move a "regressive nostalgia".

"India's fresh bid to construct a long wall along the divided border is a sign of regressive nostalgia. History is replete with instances where walls have been built to preserve occupied lands but without any success. The Berlin wall fell like a pack of cards and occupation of Palestine has not made the citizens of 'Israel' any safer than before", argues Abdul Majid Zargar, a Kashmiri columnist.

Pakistan too has warned that such a move by India will be a "unilateral" one. On Thursday, the Pakistan PM's Advisor on Foreign Affairs and National Security Sartaj Aziz said, "Any unilateral action in this regard by India cannot declare the LoC as permanent border."

The state-run Radio Pakistan quoting Aziz said Pakistan has not received any information from India about the construction of a structure like the Berlin Wall along the LoC.

 

Additional reportage by Wasim Khalid 

Follow Baba Umar on Twitter: @Babaumarr

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Al Jazeera
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