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The fear of ordinary Kashmiris increases as the Indian elections approach



The air is cool and the surrounding peaks are covered in snow, which seems white in the spring sunshine.

But the trembling and terror in Mohammad Riyad's voice as he remembers what happened in the middle of the night in late February reveals the true reality of the situation.

Riad lives in a small village just behind the city of Uri In the shadow of the Line of Control (LoC) is the de facto border that divides this disputed region between India and Pakistan. It is one of the world's most militarized borders and the scene of frequent armed clashes between the two nuclear weapons, both of which claim Kashmir in its entirety.

Violence is always just a hair loss away.

Shelling over the border is common. According to official figures filed in the Indian Parliament last March, cross-border outbreaks across the LoC have increased dramatically in recent years from 152 in 2015 to 860 in 2017. Riyad and numerous other residents say the situation has worsened lately weeks ago.

  Mohammad Riyad shows the scars he received after the splinter split his stomach.

"I was sleeping when a shell landed right outside my window," he says, his voice cracking as he pulls up his shirt to show what happened next: Shrapnel rained on his bed and split his Belly up.

Emergency operations in Srinagar, the capital of the Indian-controlled Kashmir, saved his life. A blackish ladder with stitches runs over his stomach.

Fortunately, his wife and children slept from the window and got away without injury. The family fears further attacks. "It could happen again tonight."

Constant Tension

Tensions in the region increased after a February 14 bomb attack on Indian troops in southern Kashmir.

Forty Indian paramilitaries died, making them the worst attack on Indian troops stationed here.

Delhi, which says Pakistan had a "direct hand" in the bombing, responded by sending fighter jets through the LoC and using Air Force to strike in the enemy territory for the first time in five decades.

India says it is a training camp led by the group behind the attack, a report that refers to Pakistan. Islamabad also denies any role in the bombing.

Next came an airstrike between the two sides and then the capture of an Indian pilot by Pakistan.

  The city of Uri in Indian-controlled Kashmir is close to the Line of Control (LoC), the de facto border that divides this controversial region between India and Pakistan.

The speedy release of the pilot helped to reduce hostilities and drew the two countries back from a violent spiral that many observers feared could plunge into the entire war and, in extreme cases, even lead to nuclear war.

But the locals say the two sides continue to fire artillery shells in the LoC, with each side blaming the other for the violence.

Meanwhile, India is preparing for national elections scheduled for April 11. Conflicts have become an important campaign issue. India's nationalist Prime Minister Narendra Modi and his allies consider the recent aerial battles as proof that he is strong in defense – they are stronger than his predecessors and rivals.

  Signpost on the road between Uri and Srinagar.

In an interview with the local Economics Times, Amit Shah, president of the Bharatiya Janata Party of Modi (BJP). and his closest political adviser said, "So far, there have only been two countries that are taking revenge for the martyrdom of their soldiers – the US and Israel – because of Prime Minister Narendra Modi, India is now the third country to do so."

If there were any doubts as to whether the BJP wanted to make national security an election issue, Shah added, "National elections must be held to ensure better national security."
Modi has also pointed to the NGO tensions at the border. "Enough is enough," he said at a public event in March referring to the attack in February and an earlier attack on a military facility in Uri in 2016, according to Indian news agency PTI. "We can not last for all eternity."
  16-year-old Mohammad Ansar was knocked unconscious when a grenade landed near where he stood.

"Out of Nowhere"

As the grandstand of politicians, ordinary Kashmiris, like 16-year-old Mohammad Ansar, who lives in another village near the de facto border, is scared.

Ansar was at home for lunch With his mother and two brothers in mid-March, when they heard shelling outside.

"We ate and then went outside to see where it came from, when a grenade landed right where they were," he says.

Ansar says it seemed to come from nowhere. "It was quiet when we went outside, we did not hear anything and suddenly it hit us."

  Babur Ali and his wife say they have become refugees in their own country.

Ansar was crushed and suffered a head injury.

His ten brothers and his mother were injured as well: One of the boys still has a litter around one leg and bandages after the other.

Her mother's neck and shoulders are covered with surgical bandages. "We are still very scared," says Ansar. "Every time I hear a loud noise, I panic."

So are the children of Babur Ali. Ali lived near the border, but after the February battles, he was forced to flee with his family.

  Babur Ali's children now live in makeshift shelters near Srinagar.

Huddled in makeshift shelters near Srinagar in the biting Kashmiri cold, he says his children are afraid to return to their village because of the shelling.

"We had to leave home, our possessions, everything … we had no choice."

Since Kashmir is still tense, they have become refugees in their own country.


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