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07:43

India: Bunkers a fact of life in Kashmir - the world's 'most dangerous' place

February 05, 2018 at 07:31 GMT +00:00 · Published

India recently announced it will build 5,390 concrete dugouts in Rajouri district, just one small section of its 740km (460 mile) de facto border with Pakistan in Kashmir, formally known as the Line of Control (LoC). The fortifications will provide shelter to 54,000 residents of the many villages and towns facing the brunt of intermittent cross-border shelling.

Cross-border fire and skirmishes are common along the so-called 'world's most dangerous border', however, since mid-November 2017, as many as a few dozen people, including some civilians, have been killed on both sides. Recent figures indicate that 2018 is set to become one of the bloodiest years in recent memory.

In that alarming context, these new pillboxes could become the first line of civilian and military defence if the current stalemate develops into all-out warfare. This localised solution for the geopolitical conflict is yet another sign of growing tensions between two of the world's youngest nuclear powers in the most densely militarised area on the planet.

And what kind of impact will this new initiative have for the long-suffering inhabitants of what former US president Bill Clinton famously described as the 'world's most dangerous place'?

Local opinion seems split.

Upon inspecting one of the new bunkers, Jeet Chowdary, a villager from Nowshera, felt the change was for the better.

"The construction of such bunkers has increased the safety of the locals," said Chowdary, adding that they "will still be covered with a two to three feet (0.61-0.92m) wall of earth as well. These bunkers of ours will greatly increase our safety."

The shelters, made from concrete and lined with mud, are tunnelled into the ground by labourers. The entire project is funded by the Indian central government and will allow for the construction of 372 community bunkers and 4,918 individual bunkers, fitting 40 and 8 people respectively.

Muhammad Lateef, from a village in nearby Ranbir Singh Pora, was sceptical about whether the scheme represented the best use of resources.

"Instead of this, it's better if the authorities provide us with some alternate land further away, so that we can feed ourselves and our livestock," said Lateef.

Despite some locals' reservations, government officials in the area remain upbeat. A magistrate in Nowshera, Abdul Sattar, believes that the new "safe accommodation" and proposed compensation measures would deter local people from migrating.

"In case the border residents migrate from those areas in view of heavy shelling, they can inhabit those community bunkers in safer places," he said.

Until a definitive resolution to the long-running conflict is reached, Kashmiris living next to the border will have to batten down the hatches and pray that the next bomb does not have their name on it or that the next skirmish does not result in further bloodshed.

The conflict in Kashmir began shortly after the Partition of India in 1947 and continues to this day. India and Pakistan have fought two official wars and an undeclared war over the disputed territory in 1947, 1965 and 1999, as well as another war over East Bengal in 1971. Recent efforts to end the crisis have stalled, with the two nuclear-armed sides engaged in a stalemate for the time being.

07:43
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India recently announced it will build 5,390 concrete dugouts in Rajouri district, just one small section of its 740km (460 mile) de facto border with Pakistan in Kashmir, formally known as the Line of Control (LoC). The fortifications will provide shelter to 54,000 residents of the many villages and towns facing the brunt of intermittent cross-border shelling.

Cross-border fire and skirmishes are common along the so-called 'world's most dangerous border', however, since mid-November 2017, as many as a few dozen people, including some civilians, have been killed on both sides. Recent figures indicate that 2018 is set to become one of the bloodiest years in recent memory.

In that alarming context, these new pillboxes could become the first line of civilian and military defence if the current stalemate develops into all-out warfare. This localised solution for the geopolitical conflict is yet another sign of growing tensions between two of the world's youngest nuclear powers in the most densely militarised area on the planet.

And what kind of impact will this new initiative have for the long-suffering inhabitants of what former US president Bill Clinton famously described as the 'world's most dangerous place'?

Local opinion seems split.

Upon inspecting one of the new bunkers, Jeet Chowdary, a villager from Nowshera, felt the change was for the better.

"The construction of such bunkers has increased the safety of the locals," said Chowdary, adding that they "will still be covered with a two to three feet (0.61-0.92m) wall of earth as well. These bunkers of ours will greatly increase our safety."

The shelters, made from concrete and lined with mud, are tunnelled into the ground by labourers. The entire project is funded by the Indian central government and will allow for the construction of 372 community bunkers and 4,918 individual bunkers, fitting 40 and 8 people respectively.

Muhammad Lateef, from a village in nearby Ranbir Singh Pora, was sceptical about whether the scheme represented the best use of resources.

"Instead of this, it's better if the authorities provide us with some alternate land further away, so that we can feed ourselves and our livestock," said Lateef.

Despite some locals' reservations, government officials in the area remain upbeat. A magistrate in Nowshera, Abdul Sattar, believes that the new "safe accommodation" and proposed compensation measures would deter local people from migrating.

"In case the border residents migrate from those areas in view of heavy shelling, they can inhabit those community bunkers in safer places," he said.

Until a definitive resolution to the long-running conflict is reached, Kashmiris living next to the border will have to batten down the hatches and pray that the next bomb does not have their name on it or that the next skirmish does not result in further bloodshed.

The conflict in Kashmir began shortly after the Partition of India in 1947 and continues to this day. India and Pakistan have fought two official wars and an undeclared war over the disputed territory in 1947, 1965 and 1999, as well as another war over East Bengal in 1971. Recent efforts to end the crisis have stalled, with the two nuclear-armed sides engaged in a stalemate for the time being.

W/S Labourers building bunker close to Line of Control with Pakistan in Indian-controlled Kashmir

M/S Labourers building bunker

W/S Labourers building bunker

W/S Labourers building bunker

W/S Labourers building bunker

SOT, Jeet Chowdary, resident of village in Nowshera tehsil (Hindi) "The construction of such bunkers has increased the safety of the locals because whenever the shelling will happen [we will hide inside]. The underground bunkers which have been constructed, will still be covered with a two to three feet wall of Earth as well. These bunkers of ours, will greatly increase our safety."

W/S Man holds child next to construction site

M/S Man holds child

W/S Men carry buckets to put out fire, Ranbir Singh Pora tehsil (administrative district), Indian-controlled Kashmir

W/S Man pours bucket of water over burning crops

SOT, Muhammad Lateef, resident of a village in Ranbir Singh Pora tehsil (Hindi): "Pakistan has created problems for us. In this chilling winter, our livestock that survived are dying, they are sick, where would we go? If we go to the [veterinary] hospital, there is no more room at the hospital. What can we do? The poor will die. Instead of this [building bunkers], it's better if the authorities provide us with some alternate land further away, so that we can feed ourselves and our livestock."

M/S Discarded shoes

W/S Bunker exterior

M/S Bullet holes in wall

M/S Remains of a mortar shell

C/U Remains of a mortar shell

C/U Bullet holes in wall

W/S Bomb damage to house

W/S Woman stands next to bomb damage

C/U Woman holds child

M/S Man and child

W/S Bombed house, without roof

M/S Woman looks into bombed house

M/S Bird in tree

W/S Burning crops next to building structure

W/S Destroyed house

W/S Dog walks past destroyed house

W/S People ride horsecart

W/S Pile of earth

W/S House and pile of earth

W/S Labourers building bunker in Nowshera Tehsil (administrative district), Indian controlled Kashmir

M/S Labourers building bunker

W/S Man places child in trench next to bunker

M/S Child

C/U Child

W/S People enter newly constructed bunker

M/S People enter bunker

M/S People inside bunker

C/U Woman and child

M/S People inside bunker

C/U Man looks through loophole

SOT, Seema Devi, resident of village in Nowshera tehsil (Hindi): "We feel very good with this step. Whenever we sat inside [our home] and the shelling happened, we got scared, we didn't know if it might hit us. We have small children, where would we go? Now we feel happy with the construction of such bunkers."

W/S Men sat down and speaking to each other inside bunker

M/S Man and child speaking

SOT, Kapil, resident of village in Nowshera tehsil (Hindi): "If the firing will happen, we will be safe. Everyone gathers together around here, we feel safe and relieved with this measure."

M/S People leaving bunker

W/S Government Official Muhammad Sattar reads papers at desk

C/U Sattar

M/S Sattar reads papers

SOT, Muhammad Sattar, government official in Indian-controlled Kashmir: "Keeping in view the importance of these bunkers and a high-level meeting of the home ministry visited the LoC [Line of Control] and approved 4,918 bunkers for the district. And we have surveyed all the villages and houses, educational institutions and other vulnerable places, which are highly prone to having shelling and loss of life and property. That survey has been completed and very shortly, the modus operandi for construction of these bunkers will be approved and these bunkers will be constructed."

M/S Sattar reads papers

C/U Sattar's papers

SOT, Muhammad Sattar, government official in Indian-controlled Kashmir: "The bunkers are very important for these LoC people. In case of ceasefire violation, in case of heavy shelling, these people can shift to these bunkers, and without any sort of danger, and in case this ceasefire violation or heavy shelling continues over the days, then we have another contingency plan in operation. We have identified safer places in Nowshehra, where we have identified huge chunk of land. The community bunkers at those places have also been proposed. And in case the border residents migrate from those areas in view of heavy shelling, they can be habitated in those community bunkers in safer places."

W/S Indian posts on Line of Control

M/S Indian posts on Line of Control

W/S Town in Ranbir Singh Pora tehsil

M/S Town in Ranbir Singh Pora tehsil

W/S Indian side of Line of Control

W/S Indian watchtower on the Line of Control

M/S Cows eating hay

W/S Field with hills in background

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