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?” he asked.
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 affiliations.
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 Kashmir.
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.”


Editor: Akhtar M. Faruqui
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