Just three kilometers from the heavily militarized Line of Control, there is a small village called Bokut in Kashmir’s Chakhoti.
Bokut is half empty and silent. Many people left their homes and moved in with family in safer locations elsewhere after Pakistani and Indian forces began an exchange of fire on February 27. Military trucks patrol the road. Merely a stone’s throw away is Uri, that town in India-Administered Kashmir which was attacked by militants in 2016.
The villagers say that a shell fired by the Indian forces fell just a few meters away from a house and it came from behind the mountains. “The border is 3km from this village but the Pandu sector is just behind the mountains,” says Fahim, who lives in Bokut.
They are angry at both Pakistan and India. “When they (Indians) fire from Pandu sector, the bullets come straight at us,” a resident said. “What are they fighting for? Kashmiris? No, they are fighting for Kashmir.”
Four people were injured in the shelling by Indian forces, Amjad, a receptionist at the Rural Health Centre in Chakhoti, told SAMAA Digital.
Some people have started to return home as they heard that the violence had stopped. But their unease is palpable. “We will have to leave our homes again if the firing and shelling start again,” a young Farhan Hameed says.
He likes to fly kites on the hilltop. For him and his friends, the village is everything they have.
I have friends here and I go to school with them daily, he says. But they couldn’t play together for a week because his family had to seek refuge at his uncle’s home and his friends had to move to their relatives when the cross-border firing erupted.
In this village everybody knows everyone. Women sit together for a chit-chat after the household work is done for the day. Their entire lives are contained in the village where unlike in the settled areas, they don’t leave it to buy groceries. They don’t like outsiders taking photographs.
Chakhoti happens to be a crossing point for trucks, which take fruit, vegetables, dry fruit, clothes and herbal products to India. The truck terminal is located in Chakhoti Bazaar where most of the men from Bokut work as loaders.
Trade between India and Pakistan stopped for three days last week, truck drivers say. At least 35 trucks cross the LoC to enter Indian-Administered Kashmir every day. An equal number of Indian trucks come to Pakistan’s side of Kashmir.
Ali Raza, who works at the terminal, says the lives of thousands of people depend on this trade between India and Pakistan. This is corroborated by Zafar, who is in charge at the truck terminal:
“Over 300 labourers, who work at the truck adda, are locals,” he says. A labourer earns Rs4,000 to Rs5,000 a week.
This cross-border economy is linked to the local one. Traders in Chakhoti Bazaar, with roughly a hundred shops, were depressed when they had to shut down for three days. “I don’t have money because I spent all I had on travel,” says Sajjad, a shopkeeper, who had to leave town. “How would I pay the shop rent now?” He bakes the Kashmiri kulcha (a biscuit made of corn flour, eggs and sugar).
Similarly, Iftikhar Rafi Mir, who owns a clothes shop, says he thinks it will be difficult to run his business if the skirmishes don’t stop. He believes that peace won’t return to the region until the dispute between the two countries is resolved.
“Kashmiris are dying on both sides of the border,” Mir says in an angry tone. “We have seen nothing but war after 1947.”