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Last Updated:  Friday, 31 May, 2002, 17:12 GMT 18:12 UK
Kashmiris in the cross-fire
A man inspects his shell damage roof
Living on the front line is not easy
By the BBC's Anu Anand
Reporting from Kashmir

On the road from Jammu to the India-Pakistan border, the traffic flows two ways - army trucks file past, going towards the border, and refugees come streaming in the opposite direction.

There have always been tense times here, but today they're talking about missiles and nuclear war as if it's a routine option. I've never felt so scared
Jammu resident, Rma Chopra
The dusty town of Sambha lies about 10 kilometres (six miles) from the border, just out of range of the falling artillery shells from Pakistan, and the tens of thousands of land mines laid by the Indian forces.

Sambha has become home to hundreds of refugees, mostly farmers whose crops and cattle now lie untended.

Refugees again

Anjali, aged 14, and her family say they are fed up with the tensions. They fled their farm in December, when the suicide attack on the Indian parliament took place.

Six months later, there is still no prospect of going home.

Enlarge image Enlarge map

"This is the fourth time we've had to leave in the past few years, and we don't know when we will go back," she said, trying to concentrate on her schoolbooks at a makeshift school in the sweltering heat of noon.

"I just wish India and Pakistan could find a solution once and for all."

For so many Kashmiris, the bellicose rhetoric and military build-up between India and Pakistan has become a familiar, if uncomfortable routine.

Unprecedented fear

Besides three wars between the two, there have been smaller conflicts, and the so-called routine exchanges of fire that take place every week across the de-facto border dividing Kashmir.

However, this time, people are more worried than ever.

"Every time the leaders in Delhi or Islamabad talk about a nuclear strike, I wonder what will happen to us," said life-long Jammu resident, Rma Chopra.

An Indian border guard
An Indian border guard

"There have always been tense times here, but today they're talking about missiles and nuclear war as if it's a routine option. I've never felt so scared".

Over the mountains to the west, in the Muslim-majority Kashmir Valley, the feeling is much the same.

Despite its bustling markets and ancient gardens bursting with flowers at their summer's peak, Srinagar, the capital, is tense too.

"We are really fed up with all this talk of war," said Abdul Haq, a bus driver. "For 13 years, we have seen bloodshed everyday. After so much struggle, we are still hostages to our leaders who only talk hatred and war. Why can't we move forward?"

Political motives

Senior Kashmiri leaders close to top levels of government believe the current tensions are politically motivated.

India is keen to win concessions from Pakistan - especially in terms of ending infiltration by militants from Pakistani Kashmir into Indian Kashmir.


People flee Kashmir
The local people are running scared
Rising tension:

1 October 2001:
38 killed in attack on the Kashmir assembly in Srinagar
13 December 2001:
14 killed in attack on the Indian parliament building in Delhi
14 May 2002:
More than 30 killed in attack on an Indian army camp in Kashmir
21 May 2002:
Moderate Kashmiri politician Abdul Ghani Lhone shot dead


And there is speculation that the BJP-led government in Delhi is using Kashmir as a patriotic issue to whip up support after the party suffered heavy losses in state elections this year.

War, Kashmiris say, is a smokescreen to avoid settling the Kashmir issue.

Ved Bhasin is a veteran Kashmiri politician and journalist who is still consulted by the US government on matters relating to the disputed territory.

"I hope sense will prevail and the two countries will move towards dialogue instead of war," he said.

"They will have to realise that ultimately, the solution to these problems lies in solving the Kashmir dispute, even if it means making difficult concessions," he added.





LINKS TO MORE SOUTH ASIA STORIES


 

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BBC WORLD SERVICE
SEE ALSO:
Kashmiris speak out for peace
31 May 02 |  South Asia
South Asia diplomacy in top gear
30 May 02 |  South Asia
Time 'running out' over Kashmir
29 May 02 |  South Asia
Pakistan's missile symbolism
29 May 02 |  South Asia
Impact of a nuclear strike
28 May 02 |  South Asia
Analysis: Pakistan's tribal frontiers
14 Dec 01 |  South Asia


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