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Last Updated: Tuesday, 22 July, 2003, 16:21 GMT 17:21 UK
Kashmiris dream of bus links
By Zulfiqar Ali
BBC correspondent in Muzaffarabad

Abdul Hafiz Salib with his grandchildren
Salib (centre) said his heart would burst with joy if a bus service was restored
Following the reopening of the Delhi-Lahore bus service amid a thaw in relations between India and Pakistan, some Kashmiris are wondering when they will be able to catch a bus across their divided state.

After more than half a century, 75-year-old Abdul Hafiz Salib still remembers his bus journeys from Srinagar, the summer capital of Indian-administered Kashmir to the northern Pakistani city of Rawalpindi by bus.

But then it was one country - undivided India under British rule - and such journeys are now only a dream nurtured by many.

It was 1942, five years before the partition of the sub-continent into India and Pakistan, when Salib, then 16, first travelled by bus between Srinagar and Rawalpindi on his way to Amritsar, now in Indian Punjab, where he was going to study.

Salib was born near Baramullah town in what is now Indian-administered Kashmir in 1927. He was studying in Lahore in Pakistan at the time of partition.

Most of his family members live on the Indian side of the region across the Line of Control.

Divided families

Salib was last allowed to visit the Indian side of Kashmir in 1984.

Map of Kashmir
That meant he missed the funerals of his two sisters.

"We could not go to Indian-administered Kashmir for their funerals nor my family members could come to Pakistan for my brothers' funerals," he told me.

"This is my dream to travel to Indian-administered Kashmir by bus to see my family members once again in my life," he said.

Good road

The road leading out of Muzaffarabad towards Srinagar is still known here as the Rawalpindi-Srinagar Road, although nobody has driven from here to Srinagar for more than half a century.

Until partition this was the only all weather road connecting Kashmir with the rest of the subcontinent.

Transport connections between Srinagar and Rawalpindi were stopped in late 1947 soon after the partition of the sub-continent as India and Pakistan fought their first war over Kashmir.

The Line of Control divides tens of thousands of Kashmiri families living on either side of it who have not been able to cross over to meet each other for decades.

Nazir Ahmed Wani with his three children
The Wani family look at photographs of their relatives across the border

A Kashmiri lawyer, Nazir Ahmad Wani, asks why, if a bus service could run between Lahore and Delhi, there cannot be one between Muzaffarabad and Srinagar.

"I could not see my mother, brother and sisters, my other dear ones and friends for the last 18 years," said 52-year-old Wani, while looking at pictures of his relatives now living in Baramulla, which is only 120 km from Muzaffarabad.

"We cannot share sorrows and joys of each other."

"Had there been a bus service between Muzaffarabad and Srinagar, I could reach Baramulla to see my loved ones in just three or four hours," he said.

Members of divided families wishing to travel to Indian-ruled Kashmir have to undertake a long journey - first to Lahore and then to Amritsar, Delhi, Jammu and finally Srinagar - involving almost five hectic days of travelling and a good amount of money.

When the Berlin Wall could fall and people of East and West Germany reunite, the people of Kashmir should also be allowed to meet each other
Hafiz Hamid Raza, State Transport Minister

Mr Wani says that it has also become harder to get visas to travel to the Indian side of the border.

It took him months to get a visa when he travelled to Indian-administered Kashmir for the first time in 1984, but it has got even harder since the separatist insurgency began in 1988.

Mr Wani said that his only contact with his relatives living across the Line of Control has been through unpredictable telephone lines for more than a decade.

"We telephone but it is not the same thing," he added.

Symbolism

The idea of a bus service was first advocated by a US-based diplomacy group in 2000, a year after Indian Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee made a historic bus trip to Lahore in February 1999.

It was also aired during the abortive summit meeting between Pakistani President General Pervez Musharraf and the Indian Prime Minister in the Indian city of Agra in July 2001.

Passenger bus leaving Muzaffarabad for Chakothi, last border town in Pakistani administered Kashmir
Road links stopped soon after partition
Many Kashmiri leaders on both sides of the Line of Control support the proposal.

Hafiz Hamid Raza, state transport minister of Pakistani-administered Kashmir, also likes the idea.

He said a bus service between Muzaffarabad and Srinagar would not only provide an opportunity for families to reunite but it could also help resolve the 55-year-old dispute over Kashmir.

"When the Berlin Wall could fall and people of East and West Germany reunite, the people of Kashmir should also be allowed to meet each other," Mr Raza said.

But analysts say the proposal would face strong resistance from Indian security agencies due to the separatist revolt by Islamic militants who India says are helped by Pakistan.


SEE ALSO:
Bus trips signal India-Pakistan thaw
11 Jul 03  |  South Asia
Indian and Pakistan: Defusing tension
11 Jul 03  |  South Asia
In pictures: Bus service resumes
11 Jul 03  |  Photo Gallery
Eyewitness: On the road to peace
11 Jul 03  |  South Asia
India-Pakistan buses close down
28 Dec 01  |  South Asia



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