Tensions between Islamabad and New Delhi do not directly affect Pakistanis and Indians as they do Kashmiris, particularly people living across the Line of Control or LoC. Pakistan, that claims Kashmir its ‘shehrug’ (jugular vein), and India, that calls it its “atoot ang” (integral part), seem least bothered how their enmity affects the Kashmiris on either sides. Whether it is a diplomatic crisis between Islamabad and New Delhi or a full-scale war between the two nuclear states it was these people who have suffered most throughout history.
Recent tensions, following a diplomatic crisis between the two neighbours in September, resulted once again in exchange of firing across LoC in Khuiratta, Nakyal, Tatta Pani and other bordering sectors of Jammu and Kashmir. In the last two months, people living along LoC on both sides witnessed an escalation in fire exchange and nuance in their daily routine.
The firing has affected everyone, from women at home, to children at school and to men at work, almost all the time. People kept leaving their homes in days of heavy shelling and returning when it was relatively peaceful. Schools kept closing and opening and remained closed for 3 to 4 months in a year. And businesses saw record shutdown, affecting everyone from labourer to traders.
This sporadic heavy shelling not only disturbed peace of these people but also wounded and killed many of them over the years. Wounded in most cases were sent to hospitals in Rawalpindi and Islamabad, because there is hardly anywhere to go in Azad Kashmir. And many injured, those who could have been saved, died on their way to first aid centers, because the nearest ones, in many cases are as far as 10 kilometers.
But there is another aspect; how do these tensions affect people living at LoC. This is perhaps not an obvious one, but certainly the most disastrous one. And it is how firing across LoC is affecting school and college students, the future of Kashmir.
To understand this one should look at the results of 2018 exams, of the Board of Intermediate and Secondary Education (BISE) Mirpur that show the performance of the students in colleges near LoC were very poor as compared to the students in colleges away from the control line. The results also show that no student from the hundreds of villages at LoC from Bhimber to Neelam could come in the top 20 positions and students who secured these positions were from areas that are comparatively away from LoC. The results are disastrous but the reason is obvious; the students could not go to their colleges for half of the time throughout their course.
When teachers of different government and private schools were asked they said, “Students could not perform well because their colleges were targeted even during the exams,”. He said “People at BISE are least bothered by our problems and this has affected performance of average student to 100 to 150 marks”. This means that students who were supposed to achieve first division fell to second and those at the lower rung either failed or could hardly pass with a third division. Not surprisingly, those who failed lost every chance to get a decent job, and there are very few jobs in AJK, but those with a second or third division have to face even worse consequences; they are not able to get admission in any well reputed institute in Pakistan or abroad and are destined to go to local universities, which will waste their time, money and energy.
A professor at university of Kotli, which is 100 kilometer from Khuiratta sector and around the same from Nakyal sector, talked on the basis of anonymity and revealed that “Only 4 percent of the students deserve a degree but we give it to everyone because the university has to keep its operations running.”
However, this goes beyond education to practical life of these graduates. Most of them are destined to be unemployed because of two main reasons; one there are not enough jobs in AJK, and two; they are not capable to get a job in Pakistan’s public sector due to the nominal quota for AJK nationals and in open markets which are highly competitive.
With no jobs, majority of such graduates are forced to leave their birthplace and go to their relatives in Saudi Arabia, Dubai and other Arab countries and some even make their way to UK and other European countries through study or spouse visas so that they can feed their families. The lucky ones escape the poverty and unemployment whereas the unlucky ones, indulge in drugs and crimes.
There is yet another aspect of this crisis and that is how this educated but unemployed youth on either sides of the line of control is posing a serious threat to state and human security. This fact further complicates the situation because youth indulging in drugs and crimes is indeed an easy target for non-state actors and secret organizations.
This is a complex problem and it needs to be addressed at local, regional and international level. First of all rules of local authorities, such as BISE, should be amended and a proper consideration should be given to students of areas near the LoC. If there is a tense situation and an active exchange of fire, exams must be delayed till a cease fire. Quality of education must be improved and admission criteria at local universities should be relaxed for students from villages along LoC. As well as quota for Kashmiri students at Pakistani universities should be redefined in favour of such students and similar measures should be taken in granting scholarships and employment opportunities.
On regional level Pakistan and India must respect their cease fire agreements and avoid any violations along the LoC. This is in fact in their own interests. Less violations would result in fewer clashes, and fewer clashes will result in a comparatively peaceful life at LoC. Islamabad and New Delhi need to realize that uneducated and unemployed youth is a risk to their own border and state security.
On the global level, the international community should take this problem very seriously and treat violator(s) accordingly. United Nation must observe LoC on a regular basis and international human right organizations should look into human right abuses in villages along LoC. And scholars, groups and research institutes should conduct detailed studies that how tensions between Pakistan and India affect life at LoC.
The writer is a freelance journalist and PhD Scholar at National University of Modern Languages Islamabad. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org