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July 20, 1999
Kargil celebrates return of peace
The situation in Kargil is returning to normalcy about after Pakistani intruders were pushed back across the Line of Control.
About 60 per cent of the population have returned to their homes and troops in the area have begun winding up operations, removing their temporary camps along with the Bofors howitzer and other guns from the area.
Army chief General V P Malik said the army would increase its surveillance to prevent the recurrence of infiltration in the Kargil and Drass sectors.
People in Kargil greeted each other, celebrating the end of the conflict and their return home alive. Others still live miles away from their homes, still uncertain if they should return.
''We are the victims of Pakistani shelling for the past two years and scores of our men, women and children have been killed,'' one migrant said. According to him, Pakistani shelling was as unpredictable like monsoon rains, which can come anytime.
''How can we believe Pakistan after its soldiers rained our houses with shells in the past though they ( the Pakistanis) knew we are just civilians and Muslims.''
Some of the people claim Pakistan is targetting the civilians because most of them had not supported militancy in the area. An elderly villager said, "Since we were beating the enemy on all fronts, we should not have accepted a ceasefire till that country gives an undertaking that they will not target civilian populations in future."
Meanwhile, Kargil town wore a festive look after most of the shops in the area reopened for the first time after the conflict. They were full of essential commodities, including fresh vegetables, rice, soft drinks, chicken and meat though they said there were fewer customers than there used to be before the conflict began.
The shopkeepers said this part of the season used to be very busy since tourists used to come from different parts of the country and the world. The current fighting has caused the locals a great deal of damage.
Now there are long queues -- consisting mostly of soldiers eager to contact their families -- outside the six STD booths in Kargil.
"We have won the war and defeated the enemy," one of them told his family over the telephone. Others were quick to tell their dear ones that they were in good health and would meet them soon.
One telephone operator spoke of a soldier, Rattan Lall of 12th Jammu and Kashmir Light Infantry, who broke down when he spoke to his family in Malar village in Udhampur a few days ago. They had apparently received a telegram that he had died in action in Kargil.
In contrast to the festive atmosphere in Kargil, Drass town still looks like an army camp, with soldiers moving around as local residents have yet to return to their homes from Mangi, about ten km from Drass.
Migrants at Mangi said they were keen to return home but were still worried of more attacks.
They said it was for the first time since both India and Pakistan got independence in 1947 that Drass had become a battlefield.
"Ours was a very peaceful place, with people working in their fields, leading a normal life without communal or other violence, they said, adding that the Pakistani attack had had a bad effect on them.
Migrants at Gangangir and Sonamarg, who left their homes at Pandrass to allow troops to establish camp there after Operation Vijay began said that other than a few kilos of rice, atta, milk and oil, they have not received sufficient relief from the authorities.
"Though we could not do much for our soldiers, we made our houses available to them during Operation Vijay. But the movement of army vehicles had damaged their crops and the villagers hoped the army and the government would compensate them for the damage they suffered.
There were many deserted houses in Matayan since the residents have not yet returned from the camps. One could see soldiers dismantling temporary camps set up at several places on the Gomri-Kargil highway. Bofors guns were also being removed from some places.
A soldier who was eating his packed lunch said Muslims, Christians, Hindus and Sikhs were all involved in the operation. According to him that opened the eyes of the enemy. Another soldier was all praise for about 4,000 migrants of Drass who organised a 10-km long rally at Trespone to express solidarity with the Indian troops.
Chairman of the Shining Star Border Areas Sports and Youth Welfare Association, Drass, Ghulam Nabi Zeya said the people of Drass were solidly behind the Indian army.
"Though there was very little role for civilians in a full scale war in the area, we always remain ready to help and encourage our brave soldiers." He also expressed his thanks to the local villagers who, despite a lot of difficulties and scarcity of resources, provided free accommodation and other facilities to the migrants.
He had a special word of praise for the station house officer of Drass police station who, risking his own life, shifted people to safer places during Pakistani shelling. Chief of army staff General V P Malik said that though it is not practically possible to man every point of the 740-km Line of Control in Kargil and Drass, the army would increase surveillance to prevent the recurrence of a Pakistani infiltration.
Talking to reporters at Kargil yesterday after visiting forward areas and meeting soldiers, he said that prevent Pakistani intrusions in future surveillance would have to be increased.
"We will try to plug all the loopholes as we have to remain alert because Pakistan could again try and destabilise the region," he said.
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