As tensions escalate between longtime adversaries — India and Pakistan — the former has issued orders to evacuate all villages up to 10 kilometers (about 6 miles) from the international border in the Indian state of Punjab, moving thousands of people into temporary shelter camps.
Earlier this month, a terrorist attack on an Indian army base in the Uri sector of Kashmir killed 19 soldiers. India has said that the attacks were carried out by Pakistan-based militants and in retaliation, officials announced Thursday that India has carried out surgical strikes across the line of control — killing several militants in their hideouts.
Pakistan, however, has denied that any such raids were carried out by India in its territory, asking the latter to produce credible evidence backing the claims. Pakistan has also said that it has captured an Indian soldier from the counter-insurgency branch 37 Rashtriya Rifles and killed a number of other soldiers in crossfire. India has acknowledged the capture of the soldier but rubbished reports of any killings.
Following the Indian raids, the government ordered local authorities in Punjab to start removing people close to the border between the two countries. Six districts have been affected by the orders. The Member of Legislative Assembly (MLA) from one of these districts told the International Business Times that the evacuation was being carried out to avoid any retaliatory moves against civilians as relations between the two countries deteriorate.
“All villagers — up to 10 kilometers from the fencing are being moved back into camps set up by the government. Food and stay is being provided for those displaced,” said Harmeet Singh Sandhu, MLA of Tarn Taran, a border town. “All schools, upto 15 kilometers, have been shut down and turned into camps.”
The state government and local armed forces (like the Punjab Armed Police) have sent out 8-10 armed officials to the villages to facilitate a smooth move. However, as the region had been previously evacuated during wars with the neighboring state, there is a sense of panic among the locals who fear an impending outbreak of war.
“I, and other local legislative officials, have gotten together with the civil administration and the police to take rounds of the affected areas, reassuring people that there is no need for panic and that this is a precautionary measure,” Sandhu told IBT. “We must ensure that no one takes undue advantage of the situation.”
At the same time, U.S. President Barack Obama’s administration has urged the two countries to carry out comprehensive dialogue so the situation does not escalate to a full-blown military confrontation between the nuclear-capable rivals.
In a press briefing, the spokesperson for the United States Department of State John Kirby said: “We also understand that the Indian and Pakistani militaries have been in communication. We believe that continued communication is obviously important to reduce tensions.”
“We’ve repeatedly expressed our concerns regarding the danger that terrorism poses to the region. And we all know that terrorism, in many ways, knows no border. We continue to urge actions to combat and delegitimize terrorist groups like LeT and the Haqqani Network, Jaish-e-Mohammad,” Kirby added.
He also confirmed that U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry had made a call to his Indian counterpart Sushma Swaraj the day before the strikes were carried out, but declined to comment on any matter of military concern.
“The United States continues to be concerned by the danger that cross border terrorism poses to the region and we fully expects Pakistan to combat and delegitimize the UN Designated terrorist groups,” White House spokesman Josh Earnest said. “The United States is firmly committed commitment to our partnership with India and to our joint efforts to combat terrorism.”
Pakistan’s Ambassador to the United Nations Dr. Maleeha Lodhi, however, was quoted saying by Pakistani newspaper Dawn: “India is trying to divert global attention from the war crimes it is committing in occupied Kashmir, where more than a 100 people have been killed in cold-blood by Indian forces.”
The country is expected to bring the matter to the notice of the United Nations Security Council and even approach Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon.