November 2003 News

Blame Game Puts Brakes On Buses Between JK-PoK

6 November 2003
The Indian Express

Baramulla: After five years of waiting, Begum Shama, 70, was looking forward to meeting her sister and grandchildren again. But it was not to be. With the proposed Srinagar-Muzaffarabad bus service hitting a diplomatic roadblock, her hopes of an early reunion are fast fading. The New Delhi-Islamabad blame game does not interest her. For her, both governments are equally guilty. 'What do they get by keeping families apart,' she queries. Shama last met her relatives five years ago when her son, Mufti Abdul Hamid, who served as advisor to former Pakistan PM Benazir Bhutto, died. Then too, she was 12 days late for his last rites. 'My grandchildren used to call me up to ask me when I would visit them again. I had no answer. Since last May, after Islamabad put curbs on all calls between Pakistan and Kashmir, even the phone has stopped ringing. I just want to see them again before I die,' cries Shama. Now, a nephew in the Gulf serves as the only link between Shama and her relatives in Muzaffarabad, PoK. Shama's case is not the only one. There are thousands of divided families whose joy over New Delhi's proposal of the bus service last month was cut short when Islamabad retaliated with a rider that the checkpoints should be manned by UN officials and people should travel with UN documents. Now, they are back to waiting and watching. 'It would take just four or five hours from Baramulla to Muzaffarabad. On the other hand, crossing the border through Wagah will take about a week. These people should let sense prevail and allow the bus service to start,' says Saja Begum, 75. Last month, Saja's only sister, Sarwa Begum, died in Rawalpindi. She could not call her nephews and nieces to condole the death. She had to phone her son in London and ask him to call up the family. 'Can there be anything more tragic than the situation I was in? My sister is gone forever and I could not even have a last glimpse of her. I got to know of her death four days after she was buried,' says Saja. 'I hadn't seen my sister for over six years. Lately, I couldn't even talk to her or write letters. For us, all the roads were cut off,' she adds. Although the two sisters split 40 years ago, they met time to time. But it became difficult to keep in touch after Indo-Pak ties took a nosedive following the attack on Parliament in December 2001.


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