April 2005 News

Widow's long wait to see daughter nears end

7 April 2005
The Dawn

Srinagar: A few months ago Fatima Begum was in bed with heart problems and hypertension. But a piece of news on television helped get the 75- year-old widow in Indian Kashmir back on her feet. The hunched, toothless woman was overjoyed to discover that a bus service was planned to connect Indian Kashmir with the Pakistani side for the first time in more than half a century and possibly reunite her with a daughter whom she last saw 24 years ago. 'The atmosphere has changed. I thought it would not be possible to see Hafiza again... I can't express my joy,' Fatima Begum said. 'I will also see my son-in- law and grandchildren for the first time.' Although Hafiza and her family were to travel by the first bus due to be launched on Thursday, a last minute hitch forced them to postpone their trip until the second bus in two weeks time. 'While Hafiza got a travel permit for the first bus her daughter was listed for the second bus,' said Bilal Ahmed, Fatima Begum's government employee son. 'We are a bit disappointed but we are still happy that she will come two weeks later.' The desire of Fatima Begum's divided family to meet, like thousands of others in the disputed Himalayan region, has repeatedly been thwarted by tensions between India and Pakistan. The rivals fought over Kashmir soon after gaining freedom from British colonial rule in 1947 and the conflict ended up splitting the scenic mountainous state across a Line of Control. Another war, regular sabre-rattling, a bloody freedom movement and decades of entrenched diplomatic positions ensued. But an agreement this year to launch the historic cross-Line of Control bus service, has been the most tangible gain yet of a slow peace process between the two countries. The Fatima Begum family's narrow house in a dusty alley in Srinagar was getting a new coat of paint before Hafiza's arrival. Shawls, gold chains and rings have been bought as presents for the travellers from across the Line of Control, a traditional Kashmiri feast has been planned and dozens of relatives have been invited. The occasion is extra special as Fatima Begum daughter's marriage - to a government employee in Pakistani Kashmir - was performed with only two brothers of the bride in attendance. 'The last time she was here, we had not even imagined that we would have to wait for 24 years to see her again,' said Mohammad Amin, Hafiza's carpenter brother, smiling as he showed fading photographs of his sister's wedding. 'After the bus was announced she called and congratulated us saying she is going to be on the first bus. Inshallah, she will be here,' he said. Islamic guerillas fighting Indian rule in Kashmir have threatened to sabotage the bus service and kill passengers saying it served New Delhi's aims to hold on to Kashmir. But Amin was unruffled. 'Death is a certainty in life and we are not scared,' he said. 'This is the first step to foster friendship between the two sides and India and Pakistan should take more steps like this as people on both sides are involved.' Brother Bilal Ahmed had more immediate concerns about his sister's visit. 'She can't stay for more than a month and I am so afraid that we won't get enough time with her or show her around places here.'


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