November 2003 News

URI: Truce kindles hope of Kashmir road link

30 November 2003
The Dawn

URI: For Sulaiman Shah, 72, travelling to Azad Kashmir from here in a bus has been a long-cherished dream. 'Before I die, I want to travel in a bus to Muzaffarabad from here to see my relatives,' Mr Shah told AFP. Uri is situated close to the Line of Control. Before the division of Kashmir the town served as an important stopping point along the Srinagar-Muzaffarabad road. The truce between India and Pakistan has rekindled hopes of the road being reopened. India has recently proposed a bus service from Srinagar to Muzaffarabad. Islamabad insists that the checkpoints be manned by United Nations officials and travel documents procured from the UN because Kashmir is disputed. If such a bus service is started, it will benefit thousands of Kashmiris who have to use long, roundabout routes to reach relatives on the other side of the region. 'If the truce holds, my dream will definitely come true,' said Mr Shah. Iqbal Chalko, 28, bemoans the division of the state and terms it a 'cruel thing that has happened to Kashmiris.' 'Most of my relatives are living on the other side of the bloody line and we meet them only after years,' he said and demanded the opening of the road that runs through his village, Selikote, and reaches Muzaffarabad. He says it takes days to reach his relatives when there are deaths or marriages, owing to lengthy visa procedures and long routes. 'If the road is reopened, I will reach there in two hours,' he said. Mr Chalko lives here as Selikote lies dangerously close to the LoC - close enough to hear calls to prayer in the mosques on the other side. 'I shifted a few years back with my small family leaving behind our paddy fields and walnut farms,' he said at his hardware shop. 'The truce by India and Pakistan has been music to our ears,' he said and added that he and his family were closely watching the developments. 'We will surely move back to our village but not before we are sure the guns are actually silent,' he said. Javed Iqbal, a government employee, is overjoyed at the truce and believes it will lead to the road being reopened and the start of a bus service. 'The day it happens, there will be celebrations all over the Uri belt,' he said. He said he would wait for a few days before moving back to his Odussa village from here. 'Due to shelling, living in these frontier villages has become a hell. You sleep wondering if you will still be alive in the morning,' he said. 'For the first time in over a decade, people are optimistic the truce will last,' he said. -AFP


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