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Last Updated: Thursday, 7 April, 2005, 12:39 GMT 13:39 UK
Witnessing a piece of history

By Aamer Ahmed Khan
From Muzaffarabad to the Line of Control, Kashmir

Crowds thronging the route
Crowds thronging the route

"Today is the day that another Berlin Wall will come down."

Tour operator Waqar Amer was speaking as the first bus in nearly 60 years left Muzaffarabad in Pakistani-administered Kashmir bound for Indian-administered Kashmir.

The retired colonel now runs a thriving business and is among those looking forward to busier times should the bus service across the Line of Control become a regular feature.

This day, 7 April, is simply referred to all over Pakistan-administered Kashmir as the Day of the Bus.

For real

As the day dawned, Colonel Amer's excitement had risen several notches.

It seemed that like most Kashmiris, he too was not sure whether this landmark event would actually take place.

It is not every day that one can witness history in the making

Too many times have India and Pakistan come close to a breakthrough of such significance, only to revert to more conflict.

But as the bus left its terminal, the thousands who had flocked to the venue to witness the event felt certain for the first time that this one was going to be for real.

The organisers had at first told everyone that no private vehicle would be allowed to accompany the bus.

But as the clock inched towards 1100 local time (0600GMT) they realised that the event was too overwhelming to be totally choreographed.

The moment the bus left Muzaffarabad, it found itself at the head of an extended serpentine posse of at least 50 vehicles covering almost a mile.

The snaking road along the Jhelum river added to the power of the scene.

Even journalists - never known to remain quiet for long - fell silent at times. Packed in several coaches provided by the authorities, they were simply overawed by the occasion.

People everywhere

Along the route, the 150-strong media contingent accompanying the bus spent a lot of time discussing the not so subtle political nuances accompanying the bus.

Colonel Waqar Amer
Colonel Waqar Amer - 'Another Berlin Wall' comes down

India has always described Kashmir as an inalienable part of the country and chose to give its bus a high-profile send-off - the occasion graced by the Indian prime minister himself.

But on the Pakistan side, not a single Pakistani official from the central government was present at the send-off.

The highest official was the prime minister of the Pakistan-administered territory, known locally as Azad (Free) Kashmir.

That was perhaps Pakistan's way of insisting that it regards Kashmir as a disputed territory.

All along the 62km route between Muzaffarabad and the Line of Control, which took the procession exactly two hours to cover, one could see people, people and more people.

These hilly areas are sparsely populated and it is highly uncommon to see so many people thronging the roadsides.

But on the morning of 7 April, they were everywhere, either in small groups high up on the hills or in large gatherings packing the sides.

They waved and cheered the procession right to the end.

But the moment to remember was the one when the first Pakistani passenger set foot on the bridge that covers the 50-metre or so span between the Indian- and Pakistan-controlled territories.

Despite the media rush, the scene was curiously quiet.

And understandably so. After all, it is not every day that one can witness history in the making.




BBC NEWS: VIDEO AND AUDIO
Watch the first buses leave on their historic journeys



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