Organization for Educational Change (OEC)

An Anecdote:”Living on the edge:Life in a border village of Kharmang” by Zameer Abbas, AC Kharmang, Baltistan

I have come to a very remote part of Kharmang valley, my current place of posting. The village, Biralgo, is at a distance of about 150 Km from Tolti, the headquarters of Kharmang sub division. As is the practice all over, the “army” name of the village is “Musa camp”. From any point in the village one could see the snow-capped peak which marks the Pakistan boundary with India. Stories are myriad about how the army vacated many villages, including this one, as the 1999 Kargil conflict with India was soldiered on by Pak army and “volunteers”. Twelve years on, many villages are still waiting for some sort of restitution of their land and houses taken over by the army. The killing of one and capturing of another Indian Airforce pilot during the Kargil battle is fresh in every one’s memory. With perceptible pain, the death of a man and woman due to artillery shelling was described by many. Many were injured during the low-intensity conflict; one of them showed the wounds in the right arm and chest.

Those who had served in Kharmang told me before I joined there that as long as the situation along the LOC remains peaceful (that essentially means no lobbing of artillery shells across the border ). So far I seem to have a good time. Army camps dotted along the road and in the villages are part of life now.

Army camps, check posts and garrisons punctuate the whole area. As part of good well gestures, the army has launched many projects intended to uplifting the living standards of the impoverished people living in the villages. Schools, hospitals and other Govt facilities have been drastically changed in terms of up-keeping and quality of paraphernalia therein.
Today we have come here to disburse the compensation money of a road scheme in the village. As the staff was preparing pay checks for the villagers’ whose land had been used in the road , I walked up to a nearby army camp to seek permission to visit the mausoleum of a saint located further on a village called Borolmo juxtaposed by an army camp which calls the village “Shama sector “. People had legends attributed to the saint buried in the mausoleum. “He would throw a fistful of dust towards the Indian border and it’d catch fire; while fish would come out of the water on his intention “, told me a soldier from Shikarpur , Sindh in “Musa Camp “ with whom I seemed to have sounded a right chord by dint of my functional Sindhi, his mother tongue. The adjutant, the commanding officer and the ilk were busy in a conference in Olding , the nearby army base. Despite several attempts we couldn’t get through to them which meant we won’t see the mausoleum this time around. I was turned off by this. Though the top Govt official here, I couldn’t move sans army’s permission. These are peaceful times, I said to myself but you can’t breach a “security alert “in a border area!

Back with the villagers, we were served a lunch of mutton. Perhaps Mr Raza , a road worker had slaughtered a goat to honor me and the staff. In between the bank check distribution and my time alone in a room overlooking Kargil road, I switched between writing this blog and reading a PDF version about the controversial philanthropist Greg Mortenson’s“Three cups of tea” whose Central Asia Institute school buildings could be seen along the road. I realized one could do wonderful things, like reading, far from the maddening world of modern communication! This small interaction with the army made me reflect as to what a horrific state the people could be in times of conflict much less the army itself

By now we got the confirmation that due to security alert (an Indian soldier had been shot dead the other day after crossing the limits towards a Pakistani check post. Mr Tariq, the Olding CO, had informed us on an earlier visit). Overall, the villagers’ lived a medieval life: rugged road, next-to-nothing phone communication , the poorest of medical facilities (a teenage boy calling himself “nurse” was all once could see)and wooden cabins people so proudly calling shops. Part of the reason for this dismal state of development is the mass migration of the villagers to Skardu , the main city of Baltistan division, for business and education. In the village ,even the soldier from Sindh had to talk to his family in Shikarpu only once in three days despite the fact that every one thought army’s communication was seamless, due to bloated national budget allocations off course(approx. 16% of our budget goes to them).

Although not that somber, this reminded me of how Mr Mortenson , the mountaineer cum controversial humanitarian worker felt while stranded from his group on the Boltoro glacier near the mighty K2 Mountain. “There can be no other place in the world where man feels himself so alone, so isolated, so completely ignored by Nature, so incapable of entering into communion with her” , he writes in the once-bestseller “Three Cups of Tea”.

Only a dozen landowners were remaining for payment of compensation now. It was time. I thought of capturing a shot or two of the ” Khamosh ” waterfall on return to my place in Tolti , so I did. While making it to Tolti again , I secretly prayed there was no war between India and Pakistan , at least not on this part of the border!


Zameer Abbass,

Assistant Commissioner, Kharmang

(Disclaimer: This is personal opinion of writer, it doesn’t necessarily reflect his or our official view)

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