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Thursday, June 24, 1999 Published at 13:12 GMT 14:12 UK


World: South Asia

Border villages feel the fallout

There are fewer people left to work as fear of war spreads

Asit Jolly reports from Khemkaran in the Indian state of Punjab

The Defence Road stretches away from Khemkaran on the border with Pakistan back into India.

Kashmir Conflict
Usually, the traffic is no heavier than a few trucks a day, but recently it has become as busy as a national highway.

Scores of visibly alarmed villagers have packed their belongings, and along with their livestock, are heading down the road away from the border.


Listen to Asit Jolly's report
The population of Khemkaran town has dwindled from 16,000 people to just 500.

One of those who has farmed in the area for years, Major Singh, has memories of India's two wars with Pakistan in 1965 and 1971.

The are enough to convince him that leaving is the right thing to do.


[ image: People are leaving with their livestock]
People are leaving with their livestock
"The Muslims took away everything from here. The fear the people felt at that time is once again provoking them to carry their belongings away from here," he says.

"That is all there is to it. The army is neither stopping anyone nor, saying anything."

Major Singh says people are scared, and that there is no-one to work in the rice fields and landowners are having to graze their own cattle.

"It is very difficult to leave. We still have to work the land," he adds.

Military deployments cause alarm

The deployment of heavily-armed military units on both sides of the border in Punjab has caused further concern amongst local people.

The Inspector-General of Police on the Indian side, Joginder Pal Birdi, says that while his officers are trying to reassure people, they are also putting in place extra security.


[ image: Security has been stepped up at border posts]
Security has been stepped up at border posts
"We have strengthened all the police stations along the border, we have strengthened them with additional force."

He says the the police are patrolling round the clock just in case anything happens.

But Mr Birdi says the police are also trying to persuade people to stay. "We try to persuade the labourers also that there's nothing to fear about, you please stay on."

The uncertainty and unease felt by those living near the border has spread.

Trade feels the pinch

At the main import and export market in the city of Amritsar, about 30km from the border, traders who do business in Pakistan say that their exports have slumped,

Mukesh Sindhwani, who runs the biggest export house in Amritsar, says they have only taken a few orders recently.

He says: "There's only a small quantity because the war is there. Calamity will come upon us, that's why we have to take precautions."

Despite the exodus from the border area and the effect of the conflict on trade, visitors continue to make the journey both ways on the train that runs twice a week between Delhi and the Pakistani city of Lahore, calling at the last Indian railway station of Attari on the border.

Cross-border contacts continue

A group of visitors arriving from Pakistan did not want to see another war.

"We only fear Allah. It is only because of Allah that we are not scared of coming here. There is no fear in coming here, but there is a lot of hardship in travelling," says one man.

One man says: "I am going to meet my relatives after four years, but I do not feel completely at ease because of this conflict"

He thinks the newspapers keep playing up tensions.

A woman traveller says: "There must be no quarrel between us. On that side too, there should be peace and quiet... there should be peace on this side also."

Already the conflict in Kashmir has caused many thousands of people on either side of the Line of Control to leave their homes.

Now the uncertainty is being felt outside Kashmir too.

People in Punjab just want to see the situation resolved so that they can return to their homes and resume their normal trade with people just 50 km away.



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