A Few Hours
in 58 Years
By Adnan Adil
It takes only a few hours to cover
the 181 kilometers on the road along the noisy Jhelum
river winding through mountains between Srinagar
and Muzaffarabad. But it took Kashmiris no less
than 58 years to travel this path. A fortnightly
bus between the two cities commenced on April 7.
It has united the second generation of some Kashmiri
families who were separated by the Line of Control
(LoC) between the two Kashmirs. Most people from
the first generation are already dead having longed
all their lives to see their near and dear ones,
living on the other side of the LoC.
Abdus Sattar, 70, a shawl trader in main bazaar
of Muzaffarabad, says he came to Pakistan all alone
leaving his parents and all his siblings in Baramula
in 1965 when he worked as a guide to militants.
Since then he is settled here and could not go back
even to attend the funeral of his father and two
brothers. “People may come from thousands
of miles, say from America, to attend the final
rites of their relatives, but we could not do so
despite living at a distance of few hours from our
families. Could anything be more cruel than that?”
The old shawl-seller has now applied for a travel
permit, a substitute to passport for travel across
the Line of Control through the newly introduced
bus. “I just want to see my relatives, my
nephews and nieces and their children. I do not
have any other desire,” the old man said.
The desire to see the blood relations on the other
side of the border is overwhelming among the divided
families in Kashmir and it cuts across their political
In many cases those who were separated at the time
of the partition of Kashmir have died, but their
children have not forgotten the blood relations
on the other side.
Khalid Hussain, one of 19 passengers from Srinagar
who arrived in Muzaffarabad through the maiden bus
service, said he had come to see the son of his
paternal aunt in Mirpur. He was going to see his
first cousin for the first time.
Anwer Kamal Gillani stood in front of Pakistan-administered
Kashmir’s parliament at Muzaffarabad bus terminal,
named Facilitation Center, to receive his paternal
aunt and his son, Manzoor, from Uri. They were coming
to this part of Kashmir after 55 years. “For
us, this is a bigger occasion than Eid. These people
are coming after 50-55 years. There are people who
have not seen their children left on the other side
of the border,” he said.
In Muzaffarabad, by and large people were happy
to see the bus plying across the divided Kashmir.
When the bus from Muzaffarabad left for Chikothi
with passengers for Srinagar, hundreds of people
were crowded outside the bus terminal to greet the
passengers. Each passenger was seen off by more
than one family.
As the bus started moving, it could only do so at
a snail’s pace for the first few miles due
to the crowd. As it picked up speed on the road
to the Line of Control, it was followed by a procession
of dozens of cars and jeeps. At several places along
the route there were people standing on the sides
waving to the passengers. As the passengers crossed
Lal Bridge that connects the two parts of Kashmir,
some of them kneeled down to kiss the soil.
Several Kashmiri political parties and groups on
this side of the border welcomed the bus service.
A day before the launch, they held an all parties
conference lending it their support. However, these
Kashmiri leaders were heard saying that the bus
connecting the two people is just a step towards
the solution of Kashmir issue and not the solution.
Despite general support for the bus service, many
people seemed to have their reservations. In Muzaffarabad
bazaar, Riaz Zargar, a young shopkeeper, said: “The
bus service is welcome but this is just a facility
for reuniting the divided families, not the solution
of the Kashmir issue.”
Others showed outright opposition to the move. Muhammad
Siddique, 30, who came from Indian-administered
Kashmir in 1990 to this side amidst the high tide
of militancy, said: “We did not give sacrifices
and accepted the separation from our dear and near
ones only to have this bus connecting two sides.
Our goal is Kashmir’s liberation. I would
not like to travel on this bus even if I get a permit
unless Kashmir gets its fundamental right of self-determination.”
Siddique said the bus service was like rubbing salt
in the wounds of Kashmiris who had lost thousands
of lives in the freedom movement.
The views of many young people like Siddique were
echoed in statements of Kashmiri leaders -- both
secular and Islamic -- who considered that the bus
would provide India with an opportunity to ward
off international pressure on Kashmir and use it
as a justification to show that all was well in
Amanullah Khan, chairman of Jammu and Kashmir Liberation
Front, termed the bus service a slow and sweet poison
for the Kashmiris. Jamaat Islami Azad Kashmir President
Sardar Aijaz Afzal Khan welcomed those who had come
from across the border by what he said ‘trampling’
the border, but he said if a durable solution to
Kashmir issue was not found, the bus service would
not last long.
The question of the bus service’s survival
agitates many minds on this side of Kashmir despite
the fact that a majority of people seems to support
it. Many people want other land routes in Rajouri
and Doda to open up as well. Unlike some politicians
opposing land route’s opening, Kashmiri people
don’t think that the move could harm the cause
of Kashmir’s freedom.
In fact, by talking to Kashmiris on this occasion,
one gets an impression that they have a very strong
sense of their distinct ethnic identity. They consider
themselves neither a part of Pakistan nor India.
Abdus Sattar, an old man in the bazaar who took
part in the 1965 militancy in Indian-administered
Kashmir, said: “Pakistan is a separate country,
India is a separate country and Kashmir is a separate
country. Kashmir belongs neither to India nor to
Pakistan. We consider Pakistan to be our advocate
not a party to the dispute.”