Army columns with artillery moved towards Punjab’s border with Pakistan yesterday amid rising tensions between India and Pakistan after New Delhi’s surgical strikes across the Line of Control.
Army convoys could be seen moving towards the border belt in various border districts of Punjab including Fazilka, Ferozepur, Amritsar, Tarn Taran, Gurdaspur and Pathankot.
Punjab was on maximum alert yesterday while villagers close to the border with Pakistan were told to move to safer locations following the “surgical strikes.”
Residents of border villagers were moved to “safer areas”.
“Punjab is in a state of maximum alert,” Harcharan Bains, the advisor to Chief Minister Parkash Singh Badal, said here.
He said appropriate steps were being taken to ensure the safety of people in the border areas.
Badal yesterday put the entire government and political machinery on an emergency mode following developments on the India-Pakistan border.
Union Home Minister Rajnath Singh spoke to Badal over telephone to request him to immediately start the process of evacuation of the people in the villages falling within 10km of the border, a Punjab government spokesman said here.
The request follow apprehensions that Pakistan could retaliate. The Punjab government has ordered the evacuation of villages in a 10-km belt.
Local authorities used loudspeakers to ask residents in the border villages to leave their homes and villages.
All schools and other institutions in the border belt have been ordered shut. All leave of Punjab Police and medical personnel in the border areas has been cancelled.
Informed sources said the Border Security Force (BSF) was mobilising its troops and strengthening the security along the border.
Punjab shares a 553-km border with Pakistan.
The BSF has cancelled the Retreat ceremony at the Attari-Wagah border joint check-post (JCP) at Attari, 30km from Amritsar, officials said.
The BSF and district authorities barred visitors and tourists from travelling to Attari for the ceremony yesterday. It is not clear when the ceremony will resume.
Badal held an emergency meeting here with senior civil and police officers and asked them to direct district officials in the border areas to oversee the evacuation process.
“The chief minister directed the DCs to identify suitable location for setting up camps and ensure that none of any residents being evacuated was put to any inconvenience or hardships,” an official said.
The chief minister spoke to the concerned cabinet ministers and MLAs to camp in these border districts in which their assembly constituencies fall to liaise with the district administration to ensure the safe movement of the residents.
Badal directed the chief secretary to immediately release Rs10mn each to all the deputy commissioners of the six border districts to meet any exigency.
Security has also been tightened in Rajasthan, official sources added.
“Troops in Rajasthan are in a state of high alertness and preparedness to meet any eventuality,” army sources said.
A high-level meeting was called by Rajasthan Home Minister Gulab Chand Kataria with senior security and state government officials.
“The meeting was called to review the situation on the border,” a state government official said, adding that villagers living near the border in Rajasthan are not being evacuated at present.
“We are closely monitoring the situation and, in case of any emergency or any eventuality, we will review it,” the official added.
Patrolling has been increased along the border, especially during night hours, and police asked to step up search operations in villages and hamlets and keep an eye on suspicious persons or activities.
Meanwhile, Jammu and Kashmir Chief Minister Mehbooba Mufti warned any military confrontation between India and Pakistan could lead to a disaster of epic proportions.
“If urgent steps are not taken to bring down the tensions, confrontation between India and Pakistan would bring a disaster of epic proportions to the state,” she said.
“Both New Delhi and Islamabad must open channels of communication because of the dangerous consequences of the ongoing escalation along the borders,” the chief minister said.
She said the people of the state had the highest stake in peace as many tragedies had befallen them due to violence in the last over two decades.
“For the people of Jammu and Kashmir, peace along the borders and within the mainland is of immense significance and I hope the political leadership of the two countries would also treat it with the same spirit.
“Like siblings India and Pakistan have remained locked in rivalry, but the consequences of continued animosity will be worse.”
Mehbooba said there was no alternative to talks as India and Pakistan had to return to the negotiating table to resolve their disputes even after two wars.
“I am sure that amidst the prevailing gloomy scenario in the region, the hope for peaceful means of resolving the issues will again stand the ground and political leadership of the two countries shall have to revive the peace and reconciliation with fresh resolve.
“It will be in the interest of both the countries to solve their problems through the bilateral framework as it is the only way forward given the dicey parameters of international power politics.”
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