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June 22, 1999
Kargil refugees flay govt
Mukhtar Ahmad in Kulan
Their eyes look blank as they inquire from passersby about the latest from the battlefront in their villages of Pandrass and Matayan.
They no longer believe the claims and assurances of the visiting ministers and state officials that "all of them will soon return safely to their respective villages".
"They come here with false assurances,'' the villagers say. ''Their visits have not mitigated our hardships. They have nothing to offer. The state government cannot spare any money for us," says Mohammad Akbar, a resident of Pandrass.
Akbar wakes up quite early every day and rushes to the banks of the Sindh river. "I touch the water and weep. This river is the only link we have with our land. The flowing waters bring new hope for all of us," he says.
Akbar drinks water from the Sindh and returns to his temporary home in a government building after offering prayers.
"Our prayers are yet to be answered by Allah. I am praying for the immediate return of peace in my Pandrass village, so that we could return safely."
He is concerned about his home and fields where he could not do any farming this summer.
The 600-odd residents of Matayan and Pandrass are clearly homesick. They left their villages in the wake of the Kargil conflict.
They are now in Kulan and Gagangeer villages, 10 kilometres downstream on the banks of the Sindh river which receives its waters from the heights that the intruders have occupied.
Most of the refugees have been accommodated in government buildings in Kulan. But their makeshift homes are a far cry from the idyllic habitat that nestles their modest, but sufficiently warm mud houses.
"It is better to die in my home rather than be a refugee," says a student. However, others say "they would return only after the situation improves in the area. We have already suffered a great deal. We will return to our beautiful Pandrass when the fighting stops."
"We have left behind everything in Pandrass. We have carried only a few clothes hoping the fighting would stop soon," says Hassan.
Haji Rahmutullah of Pandrass has been seeking help from every one who visits his village. He says his four sons, who are state government employees, are still in Mushko valley, where they have been posted.
"I don't know whether they are alive or not. No one knows,'' tears roll down his eyes.
The state government has assured the refugees all help but has done little so far. Their main worry is the chilling winter which forces them to remain indoors. "We have nothing to store this summer. We could not do farming, and there is nothing to eat.''
However, returning to their villages this winter looks difficult in view of the continued fighting. "The future is uncertain. I will have to continue my visits to the Sindh river to overcome my homesickness," says Akbar.
While they long to return home, the local truck drivers maintain a trickle of information about their homes. ''Are our houses safe?'' they keep asking the drivers.
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