People of PoK demand opening of other routes
10 April 2005
Srinagar: People who have come from various parts of Pakistan-occupied Kashmir on the inaugural bus have demanded opening of other routes so that it solves the humanitarian problem of thousands of divided families on both sides of the Line of Control. This will also take care of the security concerns related to the bus services. The Srinagar- Muzaffarabad bus has been hailed as a great confidence-building measure but for the majority of the divided families it brought little cheer. The people of Kashmir Valley have little in common with those of PoK. Culture, language and ethnicity are different. A little migration took place from the valley in 1947-48 and some estimates point out that it involved not more than a few thousand families, mainly of the upper caste Muslims tracing their origin to Central Asia. The real migration took place from the Rajouri-Poonch belt of the State and this has been confirmed by the overwhelming sentiment of the people who demand the opening of other routes. Nisar Ali, who travelled on this first bus from Muzaffarabad, has his divided family in Poonch town. He says, 'Most of the divided families hail from the Rajouri-Poonch belt and for us travelling on the bus has been a long journey.' It is ironic that Nisar Ali can reach his ancestral place in a matter of a few hours if the Rawlakote-Poonch route is opened but it will now take him three days to reach his destination. Similar is the fate of 10 more persons who crossed the LoC to meet their relatives. Pahari dialect People in PoK have more in common with those living in the border districts of Jammu and Kashmir, namely Karnah, Uri, Rajouri and Poonch who speak the Pahari dialect which is more akin to Punjabi. Some separatist leaders have also said that the Srinagar-Muzaffarabad road has little benefit for ethnic Kashmiris as the drawing of the cease-fire line in 1947-48 kept the ethnic base intact. On April 7, when the bus carrying passengers from PoK reached Srinagar city, a few people came out to celebrate with crackers. But it was confirmed later that these people were drawn from the ruling People Democratic Party cadre. This was more of a stage-managed show done under security cover than a spontaneous display of emotions. Locals say, there was less enthusiasm among the people here and the media blew out of proportion emotions of a few families who met their relatives. In a year, only 720 persons from this side will be able to cross the LoC and vice versa. Guarding the 170 km Srinagar-Uri highway was a difficult exercise on April 7 for the soldiers who spent almost one week on the highway prone to Improvised Explosive Device blasts. Doing the same every fortnight when the bus runs will divert a considerable number of soldiers from the counter insurgency grid. The better strategy will be to open up other routes connecting the majority of the divided families of the State and lessening the pressure on security agencies.