Voice From PoK: Erase The Line Of Blood (LOC)
24 November 2004
The Asian Age
Mirpur: There may be more political parties existing here than on the other side of the Line of Control, but unlike their compatriots, the Kashmiri politicians in what they insist is 'Azad Kashmir' are not a flustered lot. Their stance on the issue of Kashmir is very clear: No division of the Himalayan state as it existed prior to the first Kashmir war of 1947-48 is acceptable. They, as also the man on the street, want free movement across the de facto border so that several lakh families, who were separated more than five decades ago and in subsequent wars between India and Pakistan, can meet. Journalists from Jammu and Kashmir and their select associates from Delhi are on a trip to Pakistan-occupied Kashmir organised by the South Asian Free Media Association. A group of 16 Pakistani journalists visited Srinagar and Jammu in October this year as part of the programme. Soon after we had checked into our hotel, a crowd collected at the entrance and started yelling, 'Khooni lakeer ko mita do (Erase the bloody line),' They are not satisfied with the bus service between Srinagar and Muzaffarabad and want services on the other known passage points along the 475-km-long LoC. New Delhi and Islamabad, both, have acknowledged the human sufferings of the Kashmiri people and, in principle, agreed to the demand. But as was put by Chaudhary Muhammad Yasin, secretary-general of Pakistan People's Party (Azad Kashmir), 'Kon jita hai teri zulf ke sar hone tak.' He and dozens of other Kashmiris interviewed by this correspondent desired the missive to be carried to the people of India. They said that political disputes, if not resolved, lead to militancy and that the people of Kashmir must be involved in the dialogue process underway between India and Pakistan. Mr Yasin said, 'There can be no solution over the heads of us Kashmiris.' Shortly before our arrival in Mirpur, the most prosperous place in the region mainly because of remittances from kin in Europe, Mr Asif Ali Zardari, the husband of self-exiled former Prime Minister of Pakistan Benazir Bhutto, had been released from jail on bail. So, it was celebration time for his supporters here. Mr Yasin said he had spoken to Ms Bhutto over phone before joining us. 'She told me to convey to you that she believes these are difficult times and that the media has an important role to play in bridging the gulf between the two sides.' Almost every one we spoke to here echoed the sentiment. As we arrived to a warm reception at the Kashmir Press Club, a banner on a wall read, 'We express full solidarity with our brethren in India-hld Kashmir.' Another asked for granting the people of the state their right of self-determination and said, 'Taksim-e-Kashmir na manzoor (The division of Kashmir is unacceptable).' In his welcome address, Chaudhary Nazir, the president of the Press Club, referred to a few 'sacred facts' in a quest to trace the genesis of the Kashmir dispute, which was a little bothersome for the Indian group. But their Pakistani hosts stepped in and counselled him and others against evoking the memory of a bitter past. 'That would not help,' said Mr Nusrat Javed, a prominent Pakistani journalist accompanying the visitors. His comrade, Mr Mustansar Javed and Mr Vinod Sharma, the head of the Indian delegation, elucidated the agenda of Safma: To help the two sides build bridges and report on the ground realities on either side of the de facto border. 'We are here not on behalf of a government, nor do we have a political agenda,' said Mr Sharma, exactly what Mr Imtiaz Alam, the head of the Pakistani journalists' delegation, had to say repeatedly in Srinagar and Jammu. One of the speakers apologised for 'bitter talk' but contended it was unavoidable because the truth was India 'has usurped our birth right of determining our political future.' Mr Sharma responded by saying, 'We feel frustrated as anybody else. We are not holding any brief from the Indian or Pakistani governments. And then Kashmir is not a problem we journalists have created.' This helped in softening the postures. 'But the colour of our blood is the same,' pleaded an activist of an organisation of displaced families from Rajouri.