ALONG THE LINE OF CONTROL - On both sides of the de facto border in Kashmir, villagers living have special reason to fear the return of tension between India and Pakistan.
The Line of Control that separates Kashmir has been subject to a ceasefire agreed by the nuclear-armed neighbours since 2003, offering security to the hamlets that dot the snow-capped, mountainous terrain.
Periodic violations and cross-border shelling are a constant menace, but a sharp escalation over the last 10 days following apparent tit-for-tat killings of soldiers by both sides has heightened a sense of dread of more conflict.
In the tiny settlement of Parla Mohrra, located in Azad Kashmir, home to around 25 families, local families who eke out an existence on their farms are frightened.
The hamlet scattered over the hills appeared deserted when AFP visited it on Thursday. Nearby shops and schools were also closed as anxious residents refused to venture out of their homes.
Shameer Begum, a 55-year-old widow with 11 children, showed damage to her house and parts of a mortar shell which she said landed in her courtyard on Tuesday night, jolting her out of bed.
“We were scared and started to pray. We can’t live here if the firing carries on. But I am a widow and I don’t have the means to move,” she said. Labourer Sardar Shahmim, 45, said men were taking on jobs traditionally done by their wives to spare them from venturing outside. “We are not sending our women to fetch water. We go ourselves now,” he told AFP. “We have enough food for today, but if the firing incidents carry on, our food will run out,” he said.
A deal to de-escalate tensions and end the cross-border firing was reached during a 10-minute phone call on Wednesday between generals from both sides, which appears to have ended hostilities for the time being. Farmers in Poonch district said they feared a return to life before the ceasefire, when they were compelled to leave home constantly to escape frequent mortar fire.
In the recent border flare-up, Pakistan says, three of its soldiers have been killed in firing by Indian troops since January 6. India in turn has accused Pakistani troops of killing two of its soldiers on January 8, one of whom was beheaded.