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August 5, 1999
Srinagar-Kargil highway not yet safe
Mukhtar Ahmad in Mamar (Srinagar-Kargil highway)
After washing his truck, Naeem-ud-din himself entered the icy waters of river Sindh. And as he came out shivering in the biting cold, he knelt down to offer a small prayer of thanks to Allah for saving him from Pakistani shells in Kargil a day earlier.
While he was returning to Srinagar after unloading essential supplies that will see the residents of Kargil through a harsh winter, the caravan of trucks came under heavy shelling from across the border. "God saved us otherwise the shells were meant for us," he said. Some sharpnels hit the truck without causing any damage.
Even though the Srinagar-Kargil highway was thrown open to civilian traffic days back, truck drivers here are yet to regain their confidence. The highway from Zojila to Kargil is still within the artillery range of Pakistani guns and drivers returning from Kargil say army claims of the road being safe are all false.
"I went to Kargil because we heard the intruders have been pushed back and that the highway was safe. I was shocked...it was like war out there," said Mohammad Sultan, another truck driver. ''No more trips to Kargil for me,'' he added.
Sultan said he was unloading his truck in Kargil when the shells began raining down. He said the residents who are still reconstructing their houses ran helter-skelter for safety. ''I pity these people. They have always been very nice and gentle. But they are facing hard times. They are poor and now they have no houses to live in,'' Sultan added.
Residents of Kargil work for six months and store food for the winter. During the winter they are more or less confined to their houses.
"I feel sad for these poor people and I pray their hardships end soon" said Mohammad Ramzan, a friend of Sultan.
A transport officer said truck drivers volunteer to carry supplies to Kargil. However, the recent shelling has added to their fear and some may refuse to undertake a trip for some time.
Minister of State for Food and Supplies Ajay Sadhotra is all praise for the truck drivers. "We appreciate their efforts. They have helped us reach the supplies of essentials, including rice, atta, sugar, kerosene and LPG to Kargil despite the continued shelling and fear."
He said nearly 90 per cent of the supplies have been completed and the rest will be dumped by the end of this month.
But what the truck drivers look for is more than just a pat on the back. "We would happily go and brave the shells but the problem is that the insurance companies refuse to pay insurance money in case a vehicle gets damaged on the Srinagar-Kargil highway," said Gulzar Ahmad.
Sadhotra said this problem was being looked into. "The state government has already taken up this issue with various insurance companies and I am sure a decision will be taken soon."
He maintained that the shelling on the highway is not every intense.
However, when rediff.com contacted a senior army officer he admitted on condition of anonymity that the Pakistani intruders to could still target the Srinagar-Kargil highway.
Naeem has not told his parents about the risk involved when he undertakes a trip to Kargil. In the next few days he will go to Kargil again. "I have no choice...otherwise I sit idle at home. There is no work. There is no money. I get Rs 12,000 for each trip. That's good money."
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