Updated May 20th, 2024 at 15:17 IST

Poonch Prepares for Polls with Contingency Plans for Cross-Border Firing Amid Surge in Attacks

With the upcoming general elections scheduled for May 25, authorities are implementing security measures to ensure the safety of polling officials and voters.

Reported by: Yuvraj Tyagi
CRPF in Kashmir | Image:AP
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Poonch: The tranquillity of the Poonch district in Jammu and Kashmir has been shattered by a resurgence of terrorism, marking a significant departure from the region's relatively peaceful past. Since the start of 2023, a worrying trend has emerged with the first major attack in years, highlighting the evolving nature of militancy in the Kashmir Valley.  

Authorities in the Poonch sector, situated close to the Line of Control (LoC), have formulated a contingency plan ahead of the upcoming general elections. With polling scheduled for May 25, concerns about cross-border firing have prompted preparations to ensure the safety of polling officials and voters.  

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Poonch District Election Officer Yasin Choudhary outlined the plan, which includes identifying polling stations within shelling range and tagging nearby bunkers for refuge during potential attacks. Despite the inherent risks, ensuring democratic processes remain uninterrupted is paramount, necessitating meticulous planning and coordination.   

The spectre of past violence and current threats  

Recent incidents, such as the ambush in Rajouri's Bhatta Durian that claimed the lives of five soldiers, have heightened concerns in New Delhi. Data compiled by the Institute of Conflict Management reveals a surge in terror-related killings in Poonch and Rajouri, surpassing numbers from previous years. The strategic location of these districts amidst the Pir Panjal ranges underscores the complex security dynamics at play.

In April, PAFF/TRF-affiliated terrorists ambushed an army truck killing five soldiers in Rajouri’s Bhatta Durian. As per the data compiled by the New Delhi-based Institute of Conflict Management, the twin districts of Rajouri-Poonch recorded the highest number of terror-related killings since 2011.  

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Addressing the reporters on December 31, 2023, J&K Director General of Police (DGP) RR Swain said, “We know that Ponch, Rajouri, and Reasi have seen a phase of violence. We are mindful of that situation and this situation as well. And we’ll not allow this gap to be bridged in their favour.”

The staggering loss of lives among security personnel underscores the gravity of the situation. With a ratio of mortalities between security forces and terrorists at 4:5 and a surge in infiltration attempts, the challenges facing security agencies are formidable. The looming spectre of past violence threatens to disrupt the fragile peace in the region.  

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Mitigating risks and ensuring safety  

In response to the escalating tensions, security agencies have intensified efforts to prevent further violence. Measures such as designating alternate polling stations and deploying movable bunkers demonstrate a commitment to safeguarding civilians and electoral processes. Despite the inherent risks, authorities remain resolute in their determination to uphold democratic principles and protect civilian lives.

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"There are a total of 474 polling stations in the district. Poonch comprises three assembly segments--Mendhar, Haveli and Surankote. Of the total polling stations, 54 are in long-arm shelling range, that is, 0-5 kilometres from the actual Line of Control. Over two dozen odd are in the short-arm range, 0-1 km and 12 which are across the fence," Poonch District Election Officer Yasin Choudhary told reporters on Saturday.

"We have designated an alternate polling station in anticipation of continued shelling. We have made provisions for movable bunkers as well," he stated. The Union Territory has a total of 5 Lok Sabha seats, including Baramulla, Srinagar, Anantnag-Rajouri, Udhampur and Jammu. The counting of votes for all phases in Jammu and Kashmir and elsewhere across the country has been scheduled for June 4.  

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As the general elections draw closer, the security landscape in Poonch remains fraught with uncertainty. The resilience of the region's inhabitants in the face of adversity serves as a testament to their unwavering spirit. Amidst escalating tensions and security challenges, the resolve to uphold democratic values and ensure the safety of all citizens remains steadfast.  

The upcoming polls serve as a crucial test of resilience and resolve, both for the people of Poonch and the authorities tasked with maintaining peace and security. As the region navigates through turbulent waters, the collective determination to overcome adversity offers a glimmer of hope amidst uncertainty. 

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Published May 20th, 2024 at 15:17 IST