- The Washington Times - Monday, December 31, 2001

GARHI DOPATTA, Pakistan-controlled Kashmir Refugees in this dusty camp alongside the Jhelum River are anxiously following the latest flare-up in the decades-old dispute between Pakistan and India over Kashmir.
Shelling in 1998 led them to flee their homes along the border for this shabby tent village. Now some of them despair of ever going home.
Bashir Hussein, 50, carried a radio to keep track of the escalating brinkmanship between the two nuclear rivals. "Wars bring nothing but destruction," he lamented.
In August 1998 he fled his village, Kundan Galli in the Leepa Valley, close to the Line of Control (LoC) the de facto border between India and Pakistan in disputed Kashmir. Cross-border shelling was intense and thousands of civilians fled the border areas.
"I had land with fruit trees and a small grocery shop. Life was good there, but unrelenting Indian shelling devastated our village and forced us to flee our area," he said, in the Zafar Camp for internally displaced persons.
The camp was set up near the town of Garhi Dopatta, 16 miles south of the state capital, Muzaffarabad. The lines of tents are home to some 1,200 people.
Alongside them runs the Jhelum Valley road that weaves its way to Srinagar, the winter capital of Indian-administered Kashmir. However, vehicular traffic on this side stops in the village of Chakothi. Beyond is the Indian zone.
Border skirmishes in Kashmir have been an almost daily occurrence since Muslim separatists mounted an armed struggle in 1989 in the Indian zone.
The two rivals, which have fought two of their three wars since independence in 1947 over Kashmir, came to blows again in mid-1999 amid the icy peaks overlooking the Indian town of Kargil. Pressure from the United States and others helped avert a full-scale war.
"But the situation that has developed now is worse than ever," said Mr. Hussein, holding out hope that Washington and other world powers can again force common sense to prevail to avoid "unimaginable destruction."
Military tensions have soared since the Dec. 13 attack on the Indian Parliament, which New Delhi accuses Pakistan's Inter-Services Intelligence of masterminding.
Both sides have massed troops along their border and traded tit-for-tat diplomatic sanctions. Authorities in Pakistan-controlled Kashmir are bracing for another wave of fleeing civilians.
Many others in the camp, mostly elderly, share Mr. Hussein's anti-war sentiments, having witnessed firsthand its destructive consequences.
However, some younger people, fed up with a life of "hide and seek," want a military confrontation so the problem is resolved once and for all.
"Instead of daily skirmishes, it is better that there should be some decision [through war]," said Ansar Bibi, a teacher whose husband is a soldier. "One has to die either today or tomorrow."
Morale is poor in the camp. Cramped accommodation in dilapidated tents does little to keep out the bitter winter cold.
Refugees feel ignored by international relief agencies and abandoned by their own government. But they are no longer in the firing line.

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