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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.

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