Peace Road

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Asem Mohiuddin The opening of the historical road opening changed, changed the perceptions on both sides. The perceptions gave way to hope, hope gave ...

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Asem Mohiuddin

The opening of the historical road opening changed, changed the perceptions on both sides. The perceptions gave way to hope, hope gave way to belief and the belief turned into action in the latter years as the population living in villages on the LoC in Uri sector started reaping the dividends of peace along the LoC and the improvement of relations between the two nuclear armed neighbours.

Photo:The Legitimate

Photo:The Legitimate

Despite uneasy calm on the Line of Control and the international borders after new Army chief Qamar Javed Bajwa took the command of Pakistani army, the previous months have witnessed all time high hostilities between India and Pakistan on the borders. Even after Uri attack followed by the Indian army’s claims of surgical strikes on the LoC, the tension escalated not only on the LoC but even at the international border with both Indian and Pakistani army suffering losses. The civilians living on both sides of the LoC and international border also bore the burnt of the escalation of the India-Pakistan tension. Even today’s both the armies are alert and even a small incident could trigger a war like situation. However when the hostilities were at its peak the only silver lining  was the continuation of the Cross LoC trade and bus service that are considered one of the biggest Confidence Building Measures (CBM’s) between India and Pakistan over Kashmir.

These two CBM’s were initiated in the last one decade and young generation who have not seen the partition of India and division of two parts of Kashmir however are witness to these two big CBM’s, though after the beginning of these initiatives these were not given further boast.

When India and Pakistan were making preparation for the opening of historic Srinagar – Muzaffarabad road after 58 years of hostilities in 2005, for the first time scribes traveled up to Kaman Post that was still a heavily militarized zone where river Jhelum divided two armies, with almost every stretch littered with anti-personnel mines to thwart the enemy movement.

Army men dressed in olive green would only peek through pigeonhole bunkers and it was after many decades that the civilians were allowed to move into otherwise militarized zone along the Line of Control, where heavy cross border shelling and exchange of small and heavy arms fire was routine affair till November 25, 2003, when Indo Pak ceasefire agreement came into being. Those were the times when the soldiers here would seldom moved out of their heavily fortified bunkers during day time fearing sniper attacks. The area portrayed a picture real war zone. However, with thaw in Indo– Pak relations and with the announcement of opening of the Srinagar – Muzaffarabad road that year, everything changed quietly.

“At the last point of the LoC army men were welcoming civilians with open arms. It was peaceful environment.

Same was the situation on the other side across the ‘Aman Setu’ and the river Jhelum as in the Pakistan Administered Kashmir village men and women were basking sun in their courtyards relaxing. This would not been possible before that,” said Mohammed Abas a resident of Basgrain the last village on the LoC.

The opening of the historical road opening changed, changed the perceptions on both sides. The perceptions gave way to hope, hope gave way to belief and the belief turned into action in the latter years as the population living in villages on the LoC in Uri sector started reaping the dividends of peace along the LoC and the improvement of relations between the two nuclear armed neighbours.

Since then, that belief and hope has held tenuously along the LoC and in other border regions of the J&K.

It was after five decades of hostility between the neighbours that a new roadmap for peace was shaping up and being laid on the road that had witnessed war like situation soon after Indian army landed in Kashmir in 1947.

That historic moment on April 7, 2005, when amid fanfare and huge reception from both sides of the LoC, the first bus named as Karvan-e-Aman or the Caravan of Peace crossed the Kaman Bridge, which was rechristened as Peace Bridge, Aman Setu, the last point on this side on the Srinagar-Muzaffarabad road. The Peace Bus was infact one of the biggest Confidence Building Measures (CBM), the two hostile nations had taken over Kashmir to normalise their relations and also a first step to give a practical shape to the roadmap on Kashmir, agreed upon top a great deal at-least in the back channel parleys.

The opening of road that in  hinterland Kashmir, having witnessing over two decades of militancy and the  counter-insurgency operations by the government forces, thousands of people right from Uri up to Srinagar city, lined up on both sides of the road to the first passengers from across the LoC as the bus moved towards Srinagar. Same scenes were also witnessed on the other side of the LoC as people there also lined up from Kaman to Chakoti in (PAK) to welcome the Peace Bus passengers.

Within months the otherwise war zone gradually started turning into a picnic spot, where people, especially students from different parts of the Valley came up to see the Bridge, that earlier divide the  Kashmir into two parts, was now being hailed as point to join the two parts.

In past 11 years, this Peace Bus has not only helped in the reunion of thousands of divided families living in two parts of Kashmir but also turned to be an oasis of peace in the conflict ridden Valley.

Infact, during its decade old journey, the peace bus has survived India Pak hostilities, including the latest deadly attack on an Army Base in Uri, which has suddenly catapulted the relations of the two countries into a hostile domain.

Just a day after that attack, the Peace Bus was the only civilian vehicle that rolled past the Uri Army base towards its journey to Muzaffarabad, with eight passengers on board. Three years ago, when three civilians were killed at Churunda village 14 kilometers  away from Kaman Post after Indian and Pakistani soldiers traded heavy fire, next morning as usual the Peace Bus plied up to Kaman Post.

With India– Pakistan hostility at its peak again in the backdrop of Uri attack, this bus is once again turning to be the only link between the two parts of Kashmir and also the only hope for the peaceniks as they see in this bus a hope for peace whenever the war hysteria grips the region.

Besides the Bus, another CBM taken in 2008, three years after the start of Bus, was the opening of the road to cross LoC. So far goods worth Rs 2,000 crores have been traded through Kaman Post, though the trade is still in its infancy and is being done on an ancient barter system, facing many shortcoming and hurdles.

However, if left untouched by the current war hysteria and more facilities at Salamabad and Chikoti Trade Centres, like banking are allowed, this CBM has the potential to become a full fledged trade activity.

This trade CBM will not only bring two parts of Kashmir closer, but also the two neighbours, besides uplifting the economy of the region. In the current environment, where peace is holding by a thin thread and can be shattered by the pressing of a trigger by either of the Armies, these CBM’s need to be strengthened and enhanced.

 The road from Uri, if pursued by two neighbours has the potential to usher the region in lasting peace and prosperity, as is the overwhelming belief in Kashmir. However there are many people in both the neighboring countries who don’t wish this road should prosper. In fact they consider it as a threat to their hard-line agendas, however good thing is that the trade and cross LoC is now becoming a way of communication between two neighbours.

Though these are only two CBM’s time has come when Indian and Pakistani leadership should look beyond military resolutions and should work out for more such CBM’s for the peace and stability of the region. It is fact that there are some people both in the political leadership and establishment who are pursuing for hard-line approach and only look resolution of issues through military prism in both the countries however there is a bigger constituency of peace lovers   who never get swayed by the war mongering.

”Never could any issue get resolved through army interventions. Even at international level we have witnessed how military intervention has complicated the situation only dialogue reduces tension and through dialogues more CBM’s could be taken up in near future,” said engineer Tariq Mughloo who heads the Traders Federation in North Kashmir.

Time has come when governments of India and Pakistan should lay special emphasis on the enhancements of the Cross LoC trade. And it will automatically end the hostilities that can any time become a flash point for war.

” The only good thing that happened to us is the opening of the road. And rest our area has witnessed hostilities of the two nations,” says Abdul Qayoom Khan who traveled through Peace bus three times to meet his relatives in the past one decade.

 “I even took one journey soon after Uri attack. I wish the day should come when people from both sides of the Kashmir should be allowed to travel on this road in their private cars on simple cards. This time it seems a dream but time will come when this will be a reality like European countries.”

The author can be reached at bhatasem@gmail.com

The article first appeared in print edition of 28 to 03 January 2017.

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