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Give peace a chance

Last Friday, the borders dividing Kashmir spilled death and destruction as Pakistan and India traded fire leading to human casualties on either end. Once again, the innocent people living close to the Line of Control bore the brunt of the acrimony between the two countries that has devoured thousands of lives – both civilian and armed forces ­– in the past decades. Apart from lives lost, destruction to the homes and hearths of the people was immense. The cease-fire understanding reached between the two countries in 2003 has been violated with impunity with small arms fire giving way to heavy mortar and finally, even artillery. The increase in cross-border shelling in the last five years has led to a high death toll, with the number of casualties increasing each year. On the Indian side, more than 50,000 civilians required evacuation, with temporary camps being erected to house them. Moreover, education and livelihoods have been repeatedly disrupted, and homes, as well as water and electrical infrastructure damaged. A report compiled by the Concerned Citizens Group in 2018 noted that there were “no long-term strategies” being formulated to help those affected by it. It adds that even short-term measures seemed ad hoc and patchwork at best. According to it, the residents of border villages seem to have turned “itinerant migrants in their own country – evacuating their homes periodically to live in makeshift camps with their livelihoods disturbed by the deaths of their family members, losing limbs and getting wounded, their homes and hearths destroyed by the shelling, their cattle killed and maimed, and their children’s education disrupted.” The prevalent view is that in most instances, villages suffer collateral damage from cross-border shelling, with the shelling aimed at both sides’ border posts. Mortar shells lack precision guidance and the ones going astray hit villages along the border or the LoC.  However, the damage is still acute. For instance, in the last week’s shelling at least four civilians and five forces personnel lost their lives on this end even as around 20 people were injured, many so grievously that it would leave them partly or fully disabled for the rest of their lives. A 36-year-old resident from Kamalkote area of Uri in north Kashmir’s Baramulla district, who was injured during cross-border shelling on Friday, lost both his legs thus leaving him completely disabled. Similarly, a young 23-year-old woman suffered severe injuries in her shoulder and was left with a massive laceration on her back as according to her family members, a piece of shell pierced through her shoulder. She lost a lot of blood and is being treated at a Srinagar hospital. The villagers living in the border region have repeatedly demanded for the resolution of cross-border shelling through a dialogue between India and Pakistan. Moreover, their immediate demands include the provision of land for housing in safe areas but “within commutable distance of their villages,” providing schools and hostels in safe locations, and supply additional cash assistance and relief, among others. Cross-border firing is a violent confrontation in which nobody wins. Both the country should replace confrontation with dialogue and revive the ceasefire in its truest form.