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Last Updated: Sunday, 30 October 2005, 17:45 GMT
Kashmir deal raises hopes - and fears

By Aamer Ahmed Khan
BBC News, Muzaffarabad

Kashmir refugee Jan Mohammed and family
Refugee Jan Mohammed (left) says his family's life has been destroyed
What was once known as Pilot High School in Muzaffarabad is today a tent colony inhabited by those who lost their homes in the 8 October earthquake.

It is one of the dozens of tent villages to have sprung up in the capital of Pakistan-administered Kashmir over the past three weeks.

Unlike the others, though, it was buzzing with excitement on the morning of 30 October - hours after Pakistan and India had agreed to open the Line of Control (LoC).

The reason? The Pilot tent village has a large population of Kashmiris that actually belong to Indian-administered Kashmir.

They are a part of an estimated 25,000 people who were trapped on this side of the de facto border when an insurgency on the Indian side led to the line that divides Kashmir being closed.

'Wretched line'

Locally, they are known as Mohajirs, or refugees.

Kashmir refugee Guddi Bano
I have not made contact with that part of my family as yet but this decision has given me hope
Refugee Guddi Bano

"We have been saying this for 50 years. Open all of it up, why just at five points?" says Jan Mohammed, a refugee who has been working on the Pakistan side as a driver since 1990.

"At this stage, when our lives have been destroyed so brutally, why start another quarrel by opening only small parts of this wretched line?"

Not too far away from Jan Mohammed's tent, another refugee, Guddi Bano, who lost five members of her family in the quake, is hoping the two countries will build on it.

"I hear the other side has not been as badly destroyed," she says.

"I have not made contact with that part of my family as yet but this decision has given me hope.

"In such circumstances, it is only your family that comes to your help," she says.

Villagers on the Indian side of the Line of Control waiting for news of their relatives
Kashmiri quake survivors have been desperate for news of loved ones

For Naheed Younis, another refugee, the decision could mean an escape route that she has been desperate for since the earthquake.

Naheed says she came here with her parents, both of whom were killed on 8 October.

"All I want is to go back to my home in Keran where I still have my relatives.

"This is the best news I have had since losing my parents. I need nothing, no food, no help, just the permission to go back."

Support for the move to open the LoC runs across the refugee settlement but is not limited to it.

Ordinary Kashmiris - irrespective of which side of the LoC they belong to - seem to have welcomed the decision.

Most feel that it has taken too long but even so, "better late than never".

India 'to benefit'

The response from politicians, though, is more circumspect.

Many among them are making the expected noises on the record, but come out with their reservations the moment the recorder is turned off.

This is a concrete step towards turning the LoC into a permanent border
Jammu and Kashmir Liberation Front head Amanullah Khan

"What is it that such a decision, at this stage, can do?" asks a senior minister with the government of Pakistan-administered Kashmir.

"It is a political move that in the long run will benefit India far more than Pakistan."

He argues that India is desperately looking to generate goodwill for itself in Pakistan-administered territory.

He says he has reports that the Indians started building up a reserve of food and medical supplies at the Teetwal-Chaliana crossing two weeks ago in anticipation of Saturday's decision.

"They are in a far better position to help a large number of people in that area than Pakistan, once the border opens."

Others describe the decision as a ploy to take attention away from the basic fact that neither India nor Pakistan "have a right to stop the Kashmiris from moving across the LoC".

"Their right to move freely across the LoC till the two countries reach a permanent solution was recognised by the international community 58 years ago," says the Jamaat-e-Islami party's Kashmir chief, Sardar Aijaz Afzal.

Kashmir refugee Jan Mohammed
We are truly an occupied people - occupied both by India and Pakistan
Refugee Jan Mohammed

"The decision is nothing more than a soother for the Kashmiris and a ploy to divert the world's attention away from the fact that the two countries have been denying them their right all this time."

In charge of relief operations for Jamaat-ud-Da'awa - the post 11 September 2001 incarnation of militant outfit Lashkar-e-Toiba - Haji Javedul Hasan also feels that the move will have a limited impact on relief operations.

"It is far more difficult for Delhi to reach the areas around the LoC than for Pakistan.

"But in this situation, we don't want to say anything critical. If the government has taken this decision, we will support it."

Amanullah Khan, head of the secular Jammu and Kashmir Liberation Front that advocates an independent Kashmir says the move is an insidious one.

"This is a concrete step towards turning the LoC into a permanent border," he says.

"What impact can it have on the relief situation, given that it would take 10 days for those wanting to cross the line to get permission?" he asks.

'Evil plan'

At this stage, when the exact mechanics of movement across the LoC are not fully understood, news of the decision has set rumour mills and speculation going across the city.

Many point to the presence of US forces in Muzaffarabad, arguing that "the Americans never leave a land they set foot on".

It is common to come across people who argue that the real reasons for US forces to land in the quake-affected areas was to ensure that Kashmir's division becomes a permanent fact.

It seems that such speculation will most likely dominate public discourse until it is time for the decision to be actually implemented.

"The proof of the pudding lies in eating it," says Jan Mohammed.

"If they mishandle its implementation, they will only be adding to the humiliation the Kashmiris have suffered after the quake.

"It will then become obvious that we are truly an occupied people - occupied both by India and Pakistan."




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