Living in a shanty town near Bari Imam Tomb just behind Prime Minister Secretariat in Islamabad, 150 or so uprooted families are a stark reminder of the cost of human suffering in the never-ending military contest between India and Pakistan. They are the victims of the Kargil war, now long forgotten.
“No one talks about us,” says Mohammad Ali, who moved with his family out of Brolmo – a town in Skardu district, a few kilometres away from the border – in 1997. Brolmo was affected by heavy shelling from the Indian side that year.
Ali, who hardly makes ends meet doing odd jobs, says his family ran a dry fruit business in the area for generations.
“Everything was destroyed. We were driven out of our homes without any compensation,” he adds.
Ali’s friends suggested he move to Islamabad, near the Bari Imam Tomb – primarily due to hopes that his family would be well fed by the food offered for charity at the mausoleum.
Others from Brolmo followed as the community regrouped on the outskirts of Islamabad. Almost a decade and a half later, they are still afraid about returning.
“The escalation of conflict has ended but what is the guarantee that it will not resume?” asks Khadim Hussain, Ali’s cousin.
According to the villagers living in this Islamabad slum, apart from Brolmo, residents from Ghangani and Barigam Brasil were evacuated as well in 1997. The military occupies most of their land. Escalating tensions between Pakistan and India in 2002-03 drove out villagers from Ghanche and Astore districts too.
“For the last 15 years, we have not been allowed to visit our villages,” claims Ghulam Mohammad, in a telephone interview. Mohammad is the head of a local activist group in the northern areas of Pakistan, and lives in Skardu. His group – known as ‘Migrants and Affectees of Kargil War’ – has been fighting for the refugee villagers’ compensation and permission for them to return to their lands. Last month, the movement took to the streets as well, protesting against injustice.
While permission to visit the areas has been granted after negotiations with the military present there, Mohammad maintains the move is not enough.
“The military still occupies a large part of the area and the villagers remain without compensation,” he says, adding that the civilian government has not helped them financially either.
According to Mohammad, safety still remains the biggest concern.
“Since 1965, Pakistani and Indian armies have been planting landmines along the Line of Control… there have been numerous civilian casualties when a villager accidentally sets off one of them while pursuing wandering livestock,” he says. He adds that floods in the nearby river swept landmines to the village areas as well sometimes.
According to documents available with The Express Tribune, an approximate Rs117 million compensation was recommended in 2010. The Gilgit-Baltistan government forwarded the request to the Ministry of Defence the same year.
Mohammad acknowledges this and adds that the letter then went to the Ministry of Kashmir Affairs. There has been no headway since, he says.
“For the last two years, they keep shifting the responsibility for the compensation. But we, who sacrificed our homes for Pakistan’s interests, are being ignored. Are we not Pakistanis?”
Published in The Express Tribune, June 4th, 2012.
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