Kashmir: Uneasy calm by day, 'sheer terror' at night

Women have left a village on the Pakistani side of the Line of Control, while the men stay back to safeguard property and 'show solidarity'.

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    Only men remain in this village on the Pakistani side of Line of Control in Kashmir [Imran Khan/Al Jazeera]
    Only men remain in this village on the Pakistani side of Line of Control in Kashmir [Imran Khan/Al Jazeera]

    Bakoot, Pakistan-administered Kashmir - The days bring an uneasy, eerie calm, but at night, sheer terror arrives. As darkness falls, the dull thud of artillery shelling from both sides rings out loud.

    On the Pakistan side, just a few kilometres from the Line of Control (LoC), the de facto border of the disputed Kashmir region, villages dot the countryside. Built into hills, they provide gorgeous views of the snowcapped mountains.

    But as I walk around, I notice something odd. There are no children here, no women. They have all left. Only the men remain behind. There's none of the life you would expect a village to have.

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    As I turn a corner, the reason becomes clear. A few hours before I arrived, an artillery shell from the Indian side had exploded just inches away from a house.

    The muddy crater left behind is full of metal shards, shrapnel from the shell. The trees surrounding it are battered and broken and the house itself is pockmarked with holes where larger parts of shell tore through the concrete and into the house.

    Mohammed Nasir is one of the men who stayed behind. He shows me around the inside of the house. A ceiling fan now sits on the floor, and all around, concrete dust and rubble cover almost every surface.

    "Thank God this house was empty when the shell landed," Nasir says, "otherwise this was the room where the children slept."

    I ask him why he remained behind. "It's not safe for women and children. But we need to stay to safeguard our property, to show solidarity with the army who are here to defend us," he replies.

    Another much younger man bounds into my view. He won't give me his name but loudly declares, "We may not have weapons, but we have plenty of rocks." His friends laugh at his words.

    The bravado of these men is obvious and much of it, I suspect, is designed to impress upon me that they are the brave souls who stayed behind.

    But as we descend from the hilltop village, the reality of what is happening here is writ large. Every available vehicle is packed with people leaving. Most are headed to makeshift shelters set up in schools and other community buildings out of the range of the artillery shells.

    But those places are firmly in the range of bomber jets and many here fear a war is coming. The likelihood of that, given both sides have nuclear weapons, is low, suggest most analysts, if cooler heads prevail.

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    But Pakistan and India have fought two direct wars over Kashmir, in 1947 and 1965, and have been pointing weapons at each other and firing sporadically for nearly 70 years now.

    But there is now no denying that the drums of war are beating. Whether they will stop right now is up to the politicians.

    But Kashmiris on both sides of the disputed region have long maintained it's they who suffer, that they are the forgotten ones in this battle between India and Pakistan, and the ones most affected by it. 

    Follow Imran Khan on Twitter @ajimran

    SOURCE: Al Jazeera News


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