Residents feel unsafe as underground bunkers were destroyed in 2005 earthquake
As tension mounts in the wake of surgical strikes across the Line of Control (LoC), residents of border areas in Kashmir, particularly Uri, are fearing worse times ahead.
Panic has gripped villages along the LoC in Uri, scene of the deadly militant attack on an Army base on September 18 in which 18 soldiers were killed.
A majority of underground bunkers in the Uri sector and other villages along the LoC in Kashmir had been destroyed during the devastating 2005 earthquake and never repaired or rebuilt in the backdrop of the 2003 Indo-Pak ceasefire.
“The situation in Uri and other villages along the LoC is normal, but there is concern and our fingers are crossed,” said Showkat Ahmed Rather, Sub-Divisional Magistrate (SDM), Uri.
The local administration had reviewed the evacuation plan in case there was cross-LoC shelling targeting civilian areas during a meeting a few days ago.
“It was a routine meeting during which the evacuation plan, already on paper, was reviewed. There is no underground bunker or shelter available in villages near the LoC or the town right now as all those were destroyed during the 2005 earthquake,” the SDM said.
He said in case of any eventuality, particularly small arms fire, the first priority would be to shift residents to schools identified as per plan. “If the other side resorts to artillery fire, the entire Uri area has to be evacuated. Right now, everything is normal,” he added.
On the other hand, residents living in villages along the LoC were already feeling the jitters with concern growing about possible shelling by Pakistan.
“Before the 2003 ceasefire, whenever there was shelling, we would immediately rush into underground bunkers to save ourselves. But now, those are now gone. There are fears that shelling may resume now,” said Lal Din Ganai of Tillawadi, a village in the Haji Pir sector.
“From my house, the Pakistani army’s posts are just 500 metres away. I can see activities on the other side of the LoC. We have left it to God to save us if there is firing or shelling along the LoC,” he said. He added that many residents along the LoC planned to shift to safer places.
Residents of Uri close to the Army base and brigade headquarters were concerned as shells fired by Pakistan had landed in the town in the past.
“All of us are concerned. There were worries in the aftermath of the September 18 attack. The concern has grown with the news of surgical strikes across LoC,” said Abdul Waheed of Uri.
He said he had seen shells landing in the area before the 2003 ceasefire. “This night is critical. Residents of villages close to the LoC are more worried and are fleeing,” he added.