Kupwara April 13: The cross-border shelling along the Line of Control (LOC) in north Kashmir’s Kupwara sector was so intense that the ammo fired by Pakistani army fell 60 kilometer (Km) deep inside the defacto border.
According to the residents of Panzgam, Taimuna and Chowkibal- the areas affected by the shelling- it was the first time that such intense shelling was witnessed so deep inside the Kashmir villages- after the 1971 war between India and Pakistan.
“There is an unprecedented escalation along the LOC,” a resident of Panzgam, Akbar Ahmad said (name changed).
“Long range artillery is being used. We have never seen bombs landing so close to our villages”.
According to the residents, the distance between the LOC and their villages is 60 Km by road, adding, the aerial distance is around 30 kms.
“The villages hit by the shells are just 20 km from the Kupwara town,” another resident of Chowkibal said.
The inhabitants living in Panzgam, Chowkibal, Taimuna and other villages said they are paying the terrible price for the escalation in violence between armies of India and Pakistan.
Three civilians including a lady and minor were killed in Chowkibal after a shell fired by Pakistan military exploded in a residential area.
The ammo immediately set two residential structures; a cowshed and a car on fire even as people rushed to the spot to save the injured in as soon the shells exploded, sending earth splitting sounds across the villages.
‘We objected to firing artillery from close to our villages, they didn’t heed’
Following the shelling, panic and fear gripped in several villages including Reddi, Chowkibal, Tumna and its adjoining areas, which lie close to the LOC.
A villager from Panzgam, Junaid Mushtaq, claimed that shelling was started from the Indian side on Friday, targeting areas across the LOC in Pakistan Administered Kashmir.
“The artillery was fired from Panzgam,” he said, adding, “it continued for the whole day following which internet was also snapped in Kupwara”.
Soon after, villagers of Panzgam and adjoining areas objected to the army using spaces close to their villages for ammo firing, which they said would make them vulnerable to the Pakistani retaliation.
Many videos went viral on social media, wherein villagers were seen arguing with army men to stop shelling from their area.
Villagers accused that army threatened them and told them to return to their houses, adding, they did not heed to their demand.
“At 2:00 pm Friday when the army had installed artillery weapons in a place called Jahaz ground, close to our village, some locals came out and protested,” Parvaiz Ahmad, a resident of Sounthpora said.
“People got cautious after the ground beneath them started shaking. They feared that if shells from Pakistan were fired in retaliation, what will happen to them during the times of the ongoing COVID19 pandemic. They lodged protest with the army and argued with them to not use their ground for artillery fire”.
But, they (army) refused saying they are just acting on the orders from higher authorties, added Parvaiz.
Jahaz ground is surrounded from three sides by residential houses of Thandipora, Maqam and Rawathpora.
The fears of villagers came true when Pakistanis retaliated on Sunday leading to the killing of three persons, Mushtaq said.
They dead were identified as Shamima Begum (37), originally a resident of Allahabad, wife of Gulzar Ahmad Hajam, Javid Ahmad Khan (16) son of late Ghulam Rasool Khan, both residents of Reddi Chowkibal and Zeehsan Bashir (8) son of Bashir Ahmad Khatana of Tumna.
Another four were left injured, and were identified as Ghulam Hassan Pir (60) of Reddi who has been hit in his left arm, Farooq Ahmad Kataria, Bashir Ahmad Kataria, Lal Din Chichee, Saima (12) and Sabiya, daughters of Siraj-ud-Din Badana and 16-year-old Imtiyaz Ahmad Khatria, all residents of Tumina.
Apart from three killings, the villagers said one person died due to cardiac arrest since he could not bear the sound of artillery booms and explosions, which shook the entire area.
The villagers identified the deceased as Ghulam Mohiudin Chopan, 60 of Rawatpora Village.
Following the shelling, Javed Ahmed, a resident of Panzgam, Chowkibal, along with his family left his house and shifted to Kralpora to save his life from the cross-LoC shelling in which four people died.
“LoC is near about 40 to 45 km from our village Panzgam. But we are unable to understand who is shelling. Where from these shells are falling upon us?” Ahmed said.
While some people like Javid have left homes due to panic, but there are many who are still putting up in their houses. They said they have nowhere to go as entire Kashmir and the world at large was in the grip of COVID 19 pandemic.
“We have no place to go? If we visit our relatives, they will feel uncomfortable and will be also unwelcoming due to the COVID 19 scare. So we decided to stay put, at least for Monday or Tuesday. Hope things will improve, or otherwise we will leave” a resident of Chowkibal, Junaid Mushtaq, 27, said, adding, “he had never heard such loud booms and intense artillery shelling in his life”.
“It is so frightening. I want to escape from all this. But where I can go in during these corona times” he said
On Monday, the good news came in for the villagers.
“The army has vacated the ground where it had installed the long range artillery. People are happy about it,” Parvez Ahmed from Sounthpora village said.
On the other hand, the relatives of the deceased said they have been left shell shocked by the killings of three people in the area.
One of the deceased, Javaid Ahmad Khan, belonged at Reddi Village in Chowkibal area.
His elder brother Fayaz Ahmed Khan, told The Kashmir Press:
“What’s there to talk of now? He was a 10th class student.”
“Javid was about half a kilometer away from his home when the shell hit him. he died there only”.
Fayaz said some shells landed near their house as well, forming craters.
“The people are so frightened. Some of the families are here.Some have fled”
Ahead of Chowkibal, lie the Tangdhar area in the valley of Karnah where four persons have been declared Covid-19 positive in past few days.
Tangdhar has been witnessing shelling more often than Chowkibal.
“We live near LoC so we are habitual unlike people of Chowkibal,” a resident of Tanghdar said on phone
“Many people have underground bunkers where they hide when the shelling is very immense”.
However, owing to the pandemic when maintaining social distancing is necessary to fight the corona virus, the people of Tanghdar have a tough choice to make.
“Some people do not have bunkers and amid this threat it is very difficult to live in bunkers,” said the resident.
The army in its press statement said that Pakistan resorted to unprovoked ceasefire violations which led to the killing of three persons in Kupwara area,
“Unprovoked Ceasefire Violation initiated by Pakistan in Keran Sector at 5 pm,” Defense ministry spokesman Col Rajesh Kalia in a statement issued said.
“Pakistan now targeting civilian population in Kupwara Sector near the Line of Control resulting in the killing of 3 innocent civilians including one woman and a child,” the spokesman added.