The fresh exchange of cross-border fire in Jammu and Kashmir’s R.S. Pura sector has yet again shattered the fragile peace in forward villages along the International Border (IB) with Pakistan after the bilateral ceasefire agreement was revived in 2021. On February 25, 2021, India and Pakistan had recommitted to the 2003 ceasefire agreement. While both sides agreed to strict observance of all agreements, understandings, and ceasefires along the Line of Control (LoC) and all other sectors with effect from the midnight of 24-25 February 2021, a joint statement was issued reiterating that “existing mechanisms of hotline contact and border flag meetings will be utilised to resolve any unforeseen situation or misunderstanding.”
Since then, barring a few incidents of ceasefire violations along the LoC, the renewed bilateral pact has remained unexpectedly successful in providing relief to border residents on both sides from regular high caliber gunfire and artillery shelling. On the night of October 26-27, however, over a dozen villages in Arnia and Suchetgarh areas were shocked by cross-border shelling and firing, which reportedly left two Border Security Force (BSF) jawans and four civilians including a woman injured. In the intermittent exchange of fire, several houses were damaged and cattle injured.
The BSF in a statement said that the paramilitary force of Pakistan Rangers resorted to unprovoked firing along the IB, which is referred to as the Working Boundary by Pakistan to indicate the disputed nature of Jammu and Kashmir. “Pakistan Rangers extended their firing to target our adjacent BOPs (border outposts), prompting retaliation from own Forward Defense Posts in these areas in a befitting manner,” the statement read, adding that the shelling and machine-gun fire from across the border targeted civilian areas and some shells landed in Arnia town.
On the other side, the Pakistani newspaper Dawn reported heavy artillery fire at several points along the border in the Sialkot sector. Quoting anonymous military sources, the report stated that “the firing began after a drone attempted to intrude into Pakistani territory, which was shot down by Pakistani forces”.
Indian security forces in the past spotted Pakistani drone movements along the border and shot them down on several occasions. In October 2022, the Jammu and Kashmir police arrested two terror operatives with arms and ammunition dropped by a Pakistani drone in the R.S. Pura sector. Similarly, in February 2022, the security forces recovered three boxes of arms and ammunition, including three IEDs, dropped by a Pakistani drone near Treva village of Arnia. In June 2021, two Pakistani drones reportedly dropped bombs on the high security technical area of Indian Air Force (IAF) station Jammu.
And, despite the ceasefire, infiltration attempts have been made from across the border, foiled by security forces. In July this year, the BSF reportedly shot dead a Pakistani intruder in the Arnia sector. However, it was only after the revival of the ceasefire that villagers in these forward areas were able to reclaim and recultivate their farms close to the border fence and across it.
The recent violation of the truce has once again revived the anxieties and fears of border residents who have borne the brunt of the long-standing India-Pakistan border dispute, triggering the memories of repeated panic migrations, deaths, and destruction that the villagers on the border have endured since 1947.
With the revival of tensions, villagers fear it will become hard for them to harvest their standing paddy. Many panic-stricken migrant labourers, who work on the farms of these villages, deserted their homes and fled to safety on the night of October 26.
Border residents complain that the safety bunkers built by the Ministry of Home Affairs in recent years are inadequate and in some cases still incomplete. The Bharatiya Janata Party had promised five marlas, or 6,806 square feet of land, in a safe place for each border-dwelling family while campaigning for the 2014 Assembly election. But the Modi government allegedly changed its mind after the security forces raised concerns over depopulating Indian villages along the Pakistan border in Jammu and Kashmir.