Unprecedented evacuation of border villages in Punjab acquiring political overtones

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Jagtar Singh

Chandigarh, October 2: Not a single bullet has been fired across the international border dividing the two Punjabs  but the villages within 10 km of the border in the Indian Punjab were ordered to be evacuated within hours of issuing the orders.  Movement of thousands of people was ordered although army has not moved anywhere near the border. It is Union Home Minister Rajnath Singh who instructed the Punjab government to get the villages vacated. Punjab Chief Minister Parkash Singh Badal faithfully carried out the orders without raising any question.

Interestingly, a senior officer of the Western Army Command has been quoted saying, “There is no troop mobilisation or deployment along the border, but routine army exercises are continuing”. Strike corps being on the alert is a different issue.

This development follows the ‘surgical operation’ conducted by the special forces inside Pakistan Occupied Kashmir to neutralise what has been termed as the launching pads of the militants. This is the term that has been used in the case of infiltration from POK side. One can understand camps organised for the training of terrorists but launching pads has not been in vogue..

The situation is ironical. It is the country whose sovereignty is attack that is supposed to complain. In this case, it is an attack on the sovereignty of Pakistan although it was only a surgical strike limited to only about four hours during which two Pakistani soldiers were killed. No other details are available so far. Pakistan should have been the complainant but that government is in a denial mode taking away all the sheen of this action. It is not only just the Pakistan government. Even the United Nation officials concerned have taken the same line as Pakistan saying no such cross border action was observed.

It is the evacuation of the border villages in Punjab that reinforces India’s claim of having struck inside the Pakistani territory. Of course it is not for the first time that such action has been taken going by what former army chief General Bikram Singh (retd) said. But then the action has acquired political overtones and so has the evacuation of villages in Punjab.

Punjab was witnessing high level of political campaigning in the run up to the February 2017 Assembly election. However, the pace has slowed down. The ruling party and the Congress MLAs have moved to border villages. However, they are facing the basic question from the people who want to know the reason for their unnecessary harassment. Now Badal is moving around in these villages. People have not shifted to the camps organised by the government. There is no large scale movement of the people. Those who shifted on the first day were mainly from the lower strata. The police virtually forces people to move out going by the reports from the border villages. However, not many were willing to leave and they did not. More affected are the villages Ferozepur and Fazilka districts where the poverty levels are higher. People in the border belt of Tarn Taran, Amritsar and Gurdaspur are better off, having big modern houses that they can’t afford to evacuate.

However, the basic issue needs to be answered by the governments in Punjab as well as the centre. That is the timing of evacuation. The people in the border villages know what it means going to war. There are no such signs. Situation is returning to normal in the border areas.

The movement has only caused harassment to the people and they can’t be mollified by Badal’s visits. Moreover, going by the reports, only selected people are being taken to meet him rather the other way round.

Badal has announced that the BSF has allowed the farmers to harvest their crops across the border fence. It is not a favour as it is their right.

Terrorism just can’t be fenced by barbed wires. If that had been the case, there would have been check on cross border smuggling. If the government can’t stop smugglers, how can it  check the movement of terrorists who are have taken the resolve to die for the cause. That is for border fencing.

It may be recalled that border fencing started not due to Kashmir problem but the turbulence in Punjab. This was the first border to be fenced and later it was extended to Jammu and Kashmir and other areas. It is only Punjab that has villages right upto the border fence. People have lands on the other side of border fence.

The centre and the Punjab government must come out with convincing logic for the evacuation of the people mainly in the Punjab border belt.

Editor-in-Chief

Jagtar Singh

+91-9779711201

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