Kashmiris on Pakistan's side of border grateful for peace
26 December 2004
The Daily Times
Chakothi: The walls of the grocery shop have been riddled by years of mortar and artillery fire, but nowadays business is brisk. Before the yearlong cease-fire at the Line of Control dividing Kashmir, Muhammad Shabir Abbasi would routinely run for cover as the forces of India and Pakistan exchanged heavy fire across this Himalayan region - sometimes six or more times a day. Now he can sell his fruit and vegetables in peace. Yet with the nuclear-armed rivals starting formal talks next week on their competing claims to Kashmir, Abbasi and other residents in this battered Pakistani front- line town still fear the guns could shatter the calm again if the negotiations fail. 'Both the countries will be back to square one if they stick to their guns,' said Abbasi, 38, whose wife died in cross- border shelling in 2002. 'So far both the countries ... have wasted time and there is no development on the Kashmir dispute.' 'We will have to suffer again if talks between the countries fail.' Since the cease-fire began in November 2003, the bazaar in Chakothi has bustled and daily life has attained a normality its people previously could only long for. 'May God continue peace in this area so that our children can go to school,' said Muhammad Sharif, 55, another shopkeeper and prayer leader at the local mosque. 'Our children could not go to school for years because of cross-border shelling,' he said, pointing to the damaged roof of the town's main school, ringed on all sides by snowcapped mountains where Pakistani and Indian troops are still positioned. The Indian side of the Line of Control remains wracked by violence arising from the bloody insurgency. More than 65,000 people have been killed since it began in 1989, most of them at the hands of Indian troops. Most of the victims have been civilians. The rebels are fighting for independence or a merger with Pakistan. Sharif was skeptical that the two days of peace talks to take place in Islamabad between the Indian and Pakistani foreign secretaries from Monday would augur a breakthrough. For the first time, they will formally discuss Kashmir. 'These talks will not succeed because both countries have a hard stance over Kashmir and neither is ready to budge from their positions,' Sharif said. President Gen Pervez Musharraf has urged 'flexibility' over Kashmir. India's Prime Minister Manmohan Singh says New Delhi is willing to try for a negotiated settlement, but has ruled out changing the borders in the disputed region. India, which is predominantly Hindu, and Pakistan, an Islamic state, have been at loggerheads over Kashmir since the partition of the subcontinent by the former British colonial rulers on granting independence in 1947. Both countries claim the mainly Muslim, former princely state in its entirety. It is currently divided by a heavily militarized frontier known as the Line of Control.