Waited for bombs to crash through our roofs: Shah Faesal's heartbreaking account of Kashmir panic

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Bombs falling through roofs in a beautiful Himalayan valley. Jets. A two-month war. A nuclear attack.

Worry of such calamities has tugged at people’s minds in Kashmir in the past two weeks, says former IAS officer Shah Faesal, describing the “panic” that gripped the strife-torn region as India-Pakistan tensions reached boiling point after the terrorist attack in Pulwama.

“The last fortnight has been a horrific time for all of us,” Faesal, who resigned from the civil service in January, said at the India Today Conclave in New Delhi.

“I was in my home, and all of us were really waiting for these jets to crash over us and all these bombs to crash in through our roofs.”

“We haven’t slept,” Shah Faesal said.

On February 14, a Jaish-e-Mohammed suicide bomber killed 40 Indian paramilitary personnel in southern Kashmir, and India blamed Pakistan’s spy agency ISI of involvement. Less than two weeks later, India said it had carried out a pre-emptive strike on the terrorist group inside Pakistani territory. Pakistan responded. The Indian Air Force says that Pakistani jets breached Indian airspace a day after New Delhi’s counter-terrorism operation, with plans to target Indian military installations. They were intercepted.

Pakistani bombs fell in Indian Army compounds, but did no damage, the IAF said.

Tensions appeared to cool briefly when Wing Commander Abhinandan Varthaman, an Indian fighter pilot captured by Pakistan in the dogfight, was released on Friday night.

“All Kashmir had gone for panic-buying and we were preparing for, maybe, a war of a couple of months,” recalled Shah Faesal, describing the past fortnight. “People were thinking: what if there is a nuclear attack?”

“Our children were totally agitated and we didn’t know how to arrange for their baby food.

“When there are hostilities between India and Pakistan”, Shah Faesal said, “it’s fundamentally the people of Jammu and Kashmir who become the worst sufferers of that war. So we would not want that war to happen.”

For decades, Kashmir has been the main the main bone of contention between India and Pakistan, both nuclear-armed nations that have fought multiple wars. New Delhi has long accused Islamabad of abetting cross-border terrorism in the Valley, and Pulwama was the worst attack in decades.

“There has been a war playing in our lives for the last 30 years,” Shah Faesal said. “And every morning, when my kid goes to school, my wife tells me that we don’t know [whether he will] come back. This war plays every evening in my house when my mom looks at the portrait of my dead father, who lost his life in this conflict.”

“And this war is playing the same way in all houses in Kashmir and Jammu and Ladakh.”

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