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Punjab is perpetually at war

Harjap Singh Aujla | March 08, 2019 08:28 PM

The wounds of 1947 partition, during which approximately one million lives were lost and twenty million were made to abandon their homes and hearths and migrate penniless to newer lands, that the 1947-48 Kashmir War started. During those days more than 50% of the Indian Army consisted of Punjab soldiers from among the Dogras of Pathankot and Kangra, the Jatts of Gurgaon, Rohtak and Hissar and the Sikhs of all districts of Punjab. They were deployed in Kashmir.

The woollen mills of Dhariwal and Amritsar were working 24 hours to produce winter uniforms for the soldiers deployed in war. Amritsar aerodrome was busy lifting the soldiers, their uniforms and ammunition. This war ended with honors for Brigadiers Pritam Singh, Atma Singh, Kulwant Singh and Commodore Mehar Singh.

In 1965, once again war broke out in September. Pakistan made minor intrusions into East Punjab in Fazilka, Hussainiwala and Khemkaran sectors, but India under Lt. General Harbakhsh Singh had pushed relatively deeper into Lahore (G.T. Road), Burki (Lahore district) and Sialkot Sectors. So far so good, but on the last day, when people all over India and Pakistan were celebrating ceasefire, only a few minutes after ceasefire, bombers of Pakistan Air Force bombed Amritsar's largest industrial area of Chheharta, killing more than three hundred industrial workers. This pressed the panic button and between one hundred to two hundred thousand wealthy industrialists and merchants left Amritsar permanently for Mumbai, Faridabad, New Delhi, Panipat, Ludhiana and other safer places.



A similar exodus, but of smaller magnitude, happened during the 1971 Bangladesh War. Then came the two decade long insurgency from 1978 to 1997. It started slowly in 1978 after bloody gunfire by the Nirankaris on Bhindranwala supporters. But after the Operation Blue Star of June 1984, there was a protracted insurgency up to the end of 1995. The militants dominated at night and the police and the paramilitary forces were in control during the day light hours. The industrialists and the wealthy were feeling insecure and suffocated. This led to a massive exodus of the employment generating business houses of Amritsar, Batala, Ferozepore, Fazilka and Tarntaran. Pain was felt as far away as Ludhiana.

After the December 13th, 2001, militant attack on the Parliament House in New Delhi, there was a massive troop deployment on the sensitive border in Punjab. Although the war never took place, but its tension and unease jolted the business community of the border region once more.

After the terror attack of February 14th , 2019 in Pulwama (Kashmir), a war hysteria is being generated by several TV channels based in New Delhi and Mumbai. The owners and anchors of these channels are perfectly safe in their citadels, but their rhetoric is no music to the people living on the border. Punjab has four districts Tarntaran, Amritsar, Gurdaspur and Pathankot taken out of the erstwhile Lahore division. At one time these districts plus Ferozepore and Fazilka were very wealthy pockets, but now due to their location on the border, they are a part of the theatre of war and underdeveloped. For the past sometime, Amritsar was experiencing a boom in Golden Temple driven tourism. Its airport until the last month was the fastest growing large airport in India. But the flight disruptions of February 27th, 2019 have dealt a severe blow to the new tourist economy. For one day all flights to Amritsar from Singapore, Qualalumpur, Bangkok, Dubai, Doha, Ashgabat, Tashkent, Birmingham and Manchester were disrupted. Traffic was resumed later. At present hotel occupancy in Amritsar is down by at least 20% (as reported by the Amritsar Tribune). 200% duty imposed on imports from Pakistan has killed all trade at Wagha. Since there is no imminent chance of a dialogue between neighbors, Punjab's border area economy is heading for another downturn. We are perpetually at war in Punjab.

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