Who Bears the Brunt of Cross-Border Firing? The Border Populations

Unlike our soldiers, these civilians don’t have any training or facilities to save themselves from Pakistani firing.

4 min read
Hindi Female

Security Forces have been asked to observe restraint in anti-militancy operations in Kashmir. However, the holy month of Ramadan has witnessed a heavy increase in cross-border firing along the 200 km international border in Jammu.

The latest spate of cross-border firing appears to have been caused by the aggressive response of the BSF in destroying a Pakistani Ranger post, killing many Pakistani Rangers.

Several BSF personnel and civilians have been injured, besides damage to the property and loss of cattle. One BSF soldier has also been martyred.

Reports suggest that over 700 civilians have been evacuated from the bordering area, educational institutions have been closed, and normal life has been totally disrupted. Similar must be the situation on the Pakistani side.

An aggressive response by one side is being met with equal aggression from the other, and there is no letup in exchange of fire.

A Spiral of Aggression

Data indicates that the incidents of cross-border firing have exponentially risen both on the Line of Control and International Border in Jammu after 2014. The reason perhaps is the aggressive posturing by the Government after assuming power. Exchange of fire along the LoC is frequent. On the IB sector of Jammu too, exchange of heavy fire including by area weapons has become fairly common.

This has been happening since the mid-90s, except for a period of relative calm from 2003 till July 2014 when a cease-fire agreement was in place and was generally being adhered to.

Neither Indian nor Pakistani forces are prepared to give any quarter. Any act of aggression is countered with equal if not more aggressive action. This upward spiral continues with even indirect long-range mortars and sometimes artillery being used to punish each other, wreaking havoc in the lives of the border population. Both countries blame each other for targeting innocent civilians.

Civilians In the Cross-Fire

The injured force personnel and families of those martyred in the line of duty are adequately cared for through monetary compensation, grants of LPG, or petrol pump licenses and employment to NOK, etc.

But border residents are not eligible for such facilities.

The compensation announced for loss or injury to human and cattle are inadequate in the first place and secondly, received after a long delay. Similar is the case with compensation granted for loss of crops.

Unlike Security Force personnel, civilians are not trained to react appropriately to fire from Pakistan. The force personnel generally operate from well-fortified bunkers at the Border Out Posts (BOPs) or Forward Defended Localities (FDLs). The troops are well-armed and trained to take concealed and protected positions while out on border domination operations.

The civilians are left vulnerable without any such training or facilities.  

The travails of civilians living in border areas rarely get the attention they deserve. Border population lives in thatched or semi-pucca houses exposed to enemy fire. Flying bullets and mortar fire make these houses totally unsafe and lot of damage is caused to the life and property.

Moving along the border, one can see many houses with bullet marks and big holes created by enemy fire. Causalities are often caused to people going about their daily routine inside their houses as the walls are not strong enough to prevent piercing by bullets or Rocket Launcher projectiles. The number of civilians killed during 2002 and 2003 was about 80 and 53 respectively. During 10 years of ceasefire, the causalities had come down to just four.

The number of civilians dead and injured from July 2014 till now is already much higher than the levels of 2002 and 2003.

It would be reasonable to assume that the figures of dead and injured Pakistani civilians would also be at similar levels.


Livelihood and Education the Other Casualties

Heavy firing compels border residents to relocate to safer places. Some residents are even known to have constructed underground bunkers in their houses. 

The humans can relocate, but it is not always possible to relocate cattle, and many fall prey to the enemy bullets.

The only calling for most border residents being farming, they are easy targets when working in their fields. Farming activity, therefore, gets severely restricted during firing, adversely affecting the livelihood and income of border residents. This effect is even worse when the standing crop cannot be harvested as farmers are unable go to the fields. It is generally seen that Pakistanis harvest as well as sow their crop about 15-20 days prior to the Indian farmers. They resort to firing immediately after their farmers have completed the harvesting or sowing, thus preventing the Indian farmers from harvesting theirs, leading to heavy economic losses.

Schools in the border villages are equally vulnerable, with the childrens’ education being adversely affected. Most of the roads and tracks being under the observation of the enemy, transport cannot operate, so even those children who study in the schools in rear areas can’t make it to their classes.


No Compensation May Be Enough

Even though Government tries to compensate the tangible loss of life/injury to humans, cattle and even the crop, it is never adequate to cover for the entire loss.

The loss in terms of intangibles like education, dislocation and loss of peace of mind can perhaps never be compensated.

More importantly, no one has even attempted to assess the intangibles in terms of adverse psychological impact of the death and injury on the residents, especially on the young minds of innocent children.

The enormous psychological scars that such episodes leave on young minds are indelible.

A policy of aggressive response imposes a cost, the brunt of which is borne by none other than the residents of the border areas. The effect of dislocation of daily life of border residents due to such intermittent firing and the causalities they bear are worrisome and need to be addressed by the Government.

By continuing with this aggressive response policy, we are in fact playing into the hands of Pakistan, which claims the International Border in Jammu as the Line of Control, hence disputed.

We will have to therefore calibrate our response so that peace and tranquility prevails on the border and locals can go about their lives as normal. We cannot have a situation where the border population continues to suffer economic and psychological losses.


(The writer retired from the BSF as an additional director-general. This is an opinion piece and the views expressed above are the author’s own. The Quint neither endorses nor is responsible for them.)

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