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l May 2004 l

The Kashmir Bachao Andolan Publication

l Vol 4, No 1 l

C O M M E N T

Kashmir security and separation fence

Gary Fitleberg


Israel is in the international spotlight regarding its need to build a security and separation fence while Kashmir’s fence receives barely a mention b y the international community and media. In fact, the issue of Israel’s security fence against terrorism was brought before the International Court of Justice (ICJ) in The Hague to stand trial for attempting to protect its citizens from harm’s way. The story was given much media attention. Even Pakistan has been more severe in its public attacks on the Israeli barrier than on the Indian one. Although Pakistan expresses its fear a permanent partition, India says it is successful at keeping out insurgents. The dispute remains civil.

 

Enemies stand so close along this Kashmir frontier that in good times India n soldiers can shout across the “no-man’s land” and invite Pakistani troops over for lunch. When the mood sours, they have a clear shot at each other. These days, something more than the decades-old hostilities is separating the antagonists, a 500 mile-long, 12 foot-tall barbed-wire fence. India is building the barrier in an attempt to seal the rugged frontier against infiltration by guerrillas and militants battling to reunite the Indian controlled section of Kashmir with that ruled by Pakistan to the west. A small par t of Kashmir is also under Chinese control.

 

Pakistan fears that India wants to create what analysts and diplomats call “facts on the ground” and cement the 57-year-old division of mainly Muslim Kashmir. India insists that it has the right to build the barrier in what it considers an integral part of India. As they two neighbours and rivals prepare for the start of landmark peace talks over Kashmir and other issues this month, India and Pakistan are keeping their argument over the fence civil.

 

The two nations declared a cease-fire between their regular forces in November, and at least on the Bakarprur front, the old notion has proven true – A GOOD FENCE MAKES GOOD NEIGHBORS!!!

 

Last month, soldiers from India’s 60th Battalion of the Border Security Force hollered through the barrier, over a deep trench and across the “no-man’ s land” and to invite Pakistanis over to celebrate a Muslim festival. About 100 Pakistani villagers and a few members of Pakistan’s paramilitary Rangers force visited the tomb of a Muslim saint and joined Indian forces for lunch, according to Inspector Rajinder Kumar, a unit commander of the Indian border force. It was the first time in 17 years that anyone from Pakistan’s side of the front line had been allowed to attend.

 

“After the announcement of the cease-fire things have been much more friendly,” the inspector said. The mood was a lot more hostile a year ago, when India began building the fence. Most of the work was done during the night to avoid Pakistani fire, said Kashmir Governor S.K. Sinha who represents the Indian government in the territory. Last May, Pakistani troops tried to disrupt construction by opening fire for several hours along the Bakarpur front line and at least two other areas. Kumar said he lost two soldiers to the cross-border fire.

 

The new barrier consists of two fences with an eight-foot gap in the middle filled with coils of razor-sharp concertina wire. The fence snakes across the divided territory, hugging the Line of Control – a 1972 cease-fire line that divides the territory – and zigzagging through barren mountains as high as 12,000 feet. At construction workers complete a section on plains near Bakarpur, about 25 miles northwest of Kashmir’s winter capital, Jammu, Indian soldiers are digging up land mines laid when India and Pakistan almost went to war for a fourth time in 2002. Local farmers are taking advantage of the peace along the border to open up feeding grounds for their livestock, such as water buffaloes that graze next to the barbed-wire barrier along the border.

 

It is an expensive engineering feat, but Indian officials won’t say what it costs, or exactly what high-tech equipment is used for the barrier. The plan is to electrify the fence. If successful this would be a major accomplishment because many Kashmiris live with only intermittent power or none. Sinha didn’t want to discuss details such as planned voltage. “It will be a shock, but whether it will be fatal or not I cannot say. It is still being worked out,” Sinha said.

 

India has also tested a combination of Israeli and U.S. electronic equipment, such as motion detectors, thermal imaging cameras and unmanned aerial vehicles, or drones, to make it much more difficult to slip through the fence . An Indian intelligence official reported that at least some of the remote sensors haven’t performed very well under heavy snow conditions and freezing temperatures prevalent in Kashmir’s soaring Himalayas. The cease-fire may be the most important component of security against guerrilla and militant infiltrators.

 

If peace talks fail, and the cease-fire breaks down, some well-aimed artillery shells could destroy sections of the fence and quickly reopen guerrilla and militant infiltration routes. India has long accused Pakistan of provoking artillery battles as a diversion to help these infiltrators cross into Indian-held Kashmir.

 

Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf recently warned that he would pull out of peace negotiations if there was no significant progress toward resolving the Kashmir dispute by August. Pakistani Foreign Secretary Riaz Khokkar, the top civil servant under the Foreign Minister, said India’s fence would be discussed at the coming negotiation sessions this month in May and will lead to a Foreign Ministers summit in August. This meeting will determine whether there has been enough progress to continue negotiations. Apparently eager to set the right tone of the talks, Pakistan’s government has been very diplomatic in criticism of India’s fence.

 

Foreign Ministry spokesman Masood Khan declined several requests to explain Pakistan’s view of the barrier. The legislative assembly in the third of Kashmir under Pakistan’s control, however, condemned India’s fence as a violation of human rights and United Nations resolutions on the disputed territory in April. The long fight for control of the once sovereign state of Jammu and Kashmir began immediately after Britain granted independence to India and Pakistan in 1947, leaving the Hindu maharajah, or prince, to decide which country the state would join. Maharajah Hari Singh first insisted on remaining independent, but when Pakistan’s new army sent in troops to back rebel fighters, he agreed to join India in exchange for military aid. Pakistan claims the treaty of accession isn’t valid and wants Kashmiris to decide their fate in a referendum first called for in a 1948 U.N. Security Council Resolution.

 

Sinha, the Indian governor, is a retired army lieutenant-general who fought in the 1947 war and has spent most of his life defending the territory. He is a big fan of the fence. Sinha commented, “I wish we had built it ten years ago.” The barrier and remote sensors paid off in February by alerting security forces to militant infiltrators and seven were captured, according to Sinha. India’s government says the number of guerrillas and militants infiltrating from Pakistan has dropped sharply but that these infiltrators continue to c ross into Indian Kashmir. “Its not impossible to get past the fence. It’s just a preventative measure,” said Kumar of the Indian border force.

 

“If someone comes and cuts the wires, its easy for them to get through. Its still human beings who are going to prevent them with ambushes.” The best way to cement a divide between neighbours who can’t get along is to build a barrier for security and separation between them. A barrier and bridge will also lead to negotiations for peace. Good fences make good neighbours!!!

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