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Kargil is now a town of bunkers

July 13, 2009 11:19 IST

Kargil, which bore the brunt of the 1999 conflict between India and Pakistan, has become a town of bunkers with over 700 such facilities all around the city to save the lives of locals from Pakistan's artillery shelling.

The bunkers constructed all around Kargil town are reminiscent of Pakistan's artillery shelling, which made life difficult for the locals between 1997 and 2003. Even after 10 years of the Kargil conflict, these bunkers have not been dismantled, as people here are apprehensive about Pakistan violating the ceasefire again.

"These bunkers were not dismantled because people do not trust Pakistan. They think the neighbouring country could violate the ceasefire any time," a senior police officer said.

While some of the bunkers have very thick protective roofing, others look like a cosmetic exercise by the administration. One such bunker, built at the Government Higher Secondary School here has just two small rooms, which cannot accommodate more than 350 students.

"How can you expect more than 350 students to be accommodated in such a small bunker? You can also see that the roof will not be able to tolerate more than 50 kg of bombs," said Gulam Ahmad Meer, the National Cadet Corps teacher in the school.

The conflict reached its peak in 1999 when Pakistani infiltrators occupied strategic heights, dominating the National Highway 1D, which connects Srinagar to Leh. During the 50-day war, these bunkers saved the lives of hundreds of locals, who sought refuge in them, whenever the bombings started.

"You may call it a town of bunkers but many of us saved our lives by hiding in them. By God's grace, there has been peace for the last six years, but firing could resume anytime," Abdul Wahid, a resident, says.

"We became so accustomed to shelling that whenever there was a sound like 'tonk', we counted till 15 and the bomb used to hit some part of the city or its surrounding areas," said Haji Rangin Ali, owner of the De Zojila Hotel.

The locals say that maintenance of these bunkers is a difficult task because during rains, although rare, they get clogged with water.

"We have to ensure that they remain in a working condition, remain clean and no animal or child gets trapped inside by mistakes. We have to be careful about kids who tend to get inside them. But still, we want to retain them because shelling may take place anytime," said Mohammad Hasan, who runs a grocery shop in Kargil.

Abhishek Shukla in Kargil
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