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May 29, 1999
Border villages calm despite 'near war'
''Ladai kab lag rahi hai?'' (when is the war going to break out?) is the question being asked, a trifle nonchalantly, in Punjab's villages bordering Pakistan.
Though concerned about the military operations in Kargil, the people of the border areas go about their normal business calmly, though mentally prepared to face any eventuality, even if it means total war.
A tour of some of the border villages by a group of journalists revealed complete absence of fear among the inhabitants.
The farmers are busy preparing their fields for the paddy season. The intensified vigil launched by the Border Security Force has not affected their daily routine.
The cleaning of bunkers and pill boxes by the Indian Army in the Ditch-cum-Bund area does warrant a glance from a farmer returning home from his fields. The repeated question to the army jawanscleaning the bunkers is '' ladai kab lag rahi hai?''
Displaying traditional Punjabi hospitality, they offer lassi and cold water to the jawans, reminding them that as in the 1965 and 1971 wars, the residents of the border villages would be ready to provide any form of assistance to the army in case of a war.
Sukhdev Singh, a resident of one such village, has seen two wars. He is optimistic that the Kargil conflict would not escalate into full-scale war. ''Even if it does, we will only move out of the village to Amritsar when the actual battle starts here,'' he added.
Referring to the eventful days of the 1965 and 1971 wars, the old timers said this was the area where the Indian armed forces had finally pushed the Pakistanis back.
At the nearby village of Phul Kanjeri, which was the scene of a fierce battle in 1971, the residents felt that both India and Pakistan should live in peace with each other.
The memories of Partition, when this once-prosperous village was ransacked by Pakistani intruders and later in 1971, when it was occupied by the Pakistani forces, still haunt them.
A memorial for Indian soldiers who laid down their lives in 1971 in the battle to recapture the village still stands here, a poignant reminder of the valour and sacrifice displayed by the defenders of the nation.
A rather excitable youngster at Naushera Dhalla village, right on the border, literally breathed fire and brimstone, favouring full-scale war with Pakistan.
''The matter should be settled once and for all. Then Kashmir would no longer be a problem,'' he said, adding that even the threat of terrorism resurfacing in Punjab would be finished once Pakistan is decisively defeated.
At Rajatal village, a group of young boys playing on the roadside shake hands with army jawans who had come to conduct a survey of the area.
Even the imposition of a dusk-to-dawn curfew has not led to any form of panic in the border villages. People have got used to.
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