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With gunfire, shelling down, Kashmir borders have never been so quiet in 30 years

Source : Firstpost

With gunfire, shelling down, Kashmir borders have never been so quiet in 30 years

A tent accommodation in Gurez valley. Image courtesy Tasaduq Hussain

    Two years ago, before India and Pakistan would sign the ceasefire agreement, bombs would fall in Teethwal, Gurez, Keran, Machil, Nambla and Garkote villages. Today, tourists are flocking to these places to enjoy the picturesque location and serene beauty. No shells fall now; bombs don’t rain. Normalcy has returned to these border areas. For people, it’s no less than a miracle.

    “We want to live in peace and stability. We must keep humanity alive. We must continue to work for nation-building. Work on tourism, growth of the poor and economy,” Mohammad Ilyas, a resident of Karnah sector, said.

    With gunfire shelling down Kashmir borders have never been so quiet in 30 years

    Agricultural activities near LoC in Karnah. Image courtesy Tasaduq Hussain

    Borders in Jammu and Kashmir in the past 30 years have witnessed intense gunfire and shelling. That has led to the killing of hundreds of people in Kashmir and the Jammu region and left scores handicapped for life.

    Besides, this border shelling has left houses and livestock worth billions of rupees damaged. However, after the truce last year, they are now seeing a new dawn of peace and prosperity amid growing tourism and adventure activities in the region.

    Decline in ceasefire graph

    As per official figures, Jammu and Kashmir in the past reported a record number of ceasefire violations. In 2019, 3,479 incidents of ceasefire violations were reported. As per the Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA), of these 3,479 incidents, 1,565 violations were reported since August. After the Central government abrogated Articles 370 and 35A granting Jammu and Kashmir a special status, 2020 saw all-time high ceasefire violations with 5,100 incidents. It killed 36 people and left 130 wounded on accounts of ceasefire violations.

    As per the data shared by the MHA in Parliament, 2021 saw a total of 664 ceasefire violation incidents till June. Of these, almost all took place in the first two months of the year before the joint statement of the armies of India and Pakistan on 25 February.

    Infiltration graph declines sharply

    Indian security forces and agencies have dealt strictly with infiltration from across the border. In the past two years, the annual infiltration graph compared to previous figures has declined considerably. In December 2021, the MHA informed Parliament that estimated infiltration attempts at LoC in J&K was at an all-time low that year after the truce with just 28 attempts till October. As per the figures available, 143 attempts were reported in 2018, followed by 141 in 2019, while 2020 saw only 51 estimated infiltration attempts.

    The decline in the number of infiltration attempts is also due to the Anti-Infiltration Obstacle System (AIOS). The security agencies have maintained a high level of alertness to thwart any attempt to cross the border. Both human and technical intelligence maintain round-the-clock vigil.

    With peace at the borders, three infiltration attempts were made from across the border this year in north Kashmir’s Kupwara district. Security forces in joint operations foiled all three attempts. Five infiltrators were killed, leading to recovery of huge warlike stores, documents, other gadgets, and surprisingly narcotics as well.

    Guns fall silent

    In a much-needed relief for border residents of the region who in the past three decades witnessed the worst of times, the militaries of India and Pakistan on 25 February 2021 issued a joint statement of ceasefire at LoC and other sectors. The statement stated that it would help in achieving sustainable peace along borders.

    “Both sides agreed for strict observance of all agreements, understandings and cease firing along the Line of Control and all other sectors with effect from midnight 24/25 Feb 2021,” the joint statement issued in February last year read.

    The decision to respect the bilateral ceasefire agreement by the two armies has not only opened windows of normalcy in the region but also avenues of border tourism and adventure activities.

    First cellular networks in seven decades

    Apart from tourism and infrastructure development, for the first time since India’s Independence, cellular network providers have made their towers operational in forward areas like Keran, Teethwal, Gurez and Uri. This is a dream come true for border residents. Availability of cellular networks is now further encouraging tourists to visit these areas. They remain connected to the world even in these remote destinations.

    No wonder tourism has picked up in these bordering areas. Three border districts in north Kashmir — Baramulla, Kupwara and Bandipora — share their borders with neighbouring Pakistan. Over the past three decades, these districts have witnessed widespread damage, destruction and violence. Now with life returning to normalcy at these places, the Jammu and Kashmir government along with the support of the army and local stakeholders is promoting border tourism. The tourism department with the help of the army has in recent months organised promotional events in border areas like Teethwal, Gurez, Keran, Machil and Uri to attract visitors.

    With gunfire shelling down Kashmir borders have never been so quiet in 30 years

    Tourists enjoying a bonfire in Keran. Image courtesy Tasaduq Hussain

    Forest department’s efforts

    The Jammu and Kashmir forest department is at the forefront of promoting border tourism to attract tourists, explorers and trekkers to extreme areas of the Valley that were prone to ceasefire violations two years ago.

    Sharing details about the efforts for promotion and better infrastructure in border areas since last year, Conservator Forest Department north Kashmir circle Irfan Rasool stated that tourism activities in areas like Teethwal, Keran, Machil, Gurez, and Uri are being promoted. Each of these areas has at least one trekking route, he said.

    With gunfire shelling down Kashmir borders have never been so quiet in 30 years

    A trekking event organised by the Jammu and Kashmir forest department. Image courtesy Tasaduq Hussain

    “Seventy-five trekking routes at borders have been developed in Kashmir so far since the Valley is beyond mountainous places like Pahalgam and Gulmarg,” he said. “People prefer offbeat destinations. Areas developed by the department are rich in natural beauty. They have enough potential to attract tourists with fascinating serenity.”

    “Lifestyle and cultures are different. Visitors prefer such destinations. Department is committed to promoting border tourism. We will facilitate every visitor without disturbing or causing harm to natural habitats. In absence of hotels and other facilities, the department is encountering home stay facilities,” Irfan said.

    He said that the forest department has made forest guest house booking facilities online since there is no alternative available in border areas this early.

    Homestay in Kashmir borders

    The Jammu and Kashmir tourism department, in collaboration with the forest department, has started the homestay concept within the Valley borders for the very first time. The move is aimed at attracting more tourist footfall and opening up more avenues for the local population.

    With gunfire shelling down Kashmir borders have never been so quiet in 30 years

    Locals welcome tourists for home stay in Machil. Image courtesy Tasaduq Hussain

    In the homestay concept in border areas, the government is actively involving the local population as stakeholders.

    An official of the tourism department said that the local border population is ready to share homestays with tourists. “They will be properly educated and briefed about facilities to be made available in the facility. Serving local cuisines, other delicacies and food will add more to the visit of tourists thus attracting more from different parts of India,” the official said.

    With gunfire shelling down Kashmir borders have never been so quiet in 30 years

    Adventure activities are available in Keran sector. Image courtesy Tasaduq Hussain

    Irfan Rasool said that tents have been made available with the footfall of tourists increasing. Locals have purchased tents and they are pitching them. “We facilitated some groups to trekking routes. They promoted these areas and shared their experiences about the potential. They promoted border areas through different mediums including social media, increasing the footfall of visitors,” Irfan said.

    He further said that these border areas include Keran, Machil, Karnah, Gurez and Uri. They have separate kinds of potential. On the same pattern, they are being developed and promoted.

    Looking at their potential, he said that the plan is to promote and develop Machil for bike riding and cycling, and Keran for camping on the banks of the famous kishanganga river.

    With gunfire shelling down Kashmir borders have never been so quiet in 30 years

    Bike rally in Karnah. Image courtesy Tasaduq Hussain

    About Teethwal, he said that the area is full of natural beauty with an exclusive culture and language. Teethwal area is being encouraged as a homestay spot.

    In Gurez, he said that both camping and homestay are encouraged.

    Accommodation at Bungus and Gurez

    Both Bungus and Gurez are close to LoC. Given the strategic importance, no free movement of civilians was allowed two years back. For the first time, tents have been installed at both Gurez and Bungus valley.

    With gunfire shelling down Kashmir borders have never been so quiet in 30 years

    Gurez valley. Image courtesy Tasaduq Hussain

    Officials said that by far 15 tents have been installed in the Gurez sector while tented accommodation for 50 individuals (for a night) has been prepared at Bungus valley.

    About food, they said that the local population would serve it.

    Echoing perceptible change in the region, Aijaz Ahmad, a local from Gurez, said: “No doubt in saying that change is taking place. Development is happening. Students are regularly attending schools.”

    “People are celebrating festivals without fear of shelling and gunfire. Night long functions are taking place with people dancing to traditional folk songs in large gatherings,” Zubair, another border resident, said.

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