KAMANPOST The automatic rifles have given way to spades and shovels, heavy artillery to earth movers and soldiers to construction workers. Troops in divided Kashmir are working frantically to convert what was a mine-infested dirt track on one of the world’s most heavily militarized frontiers into a peace road connecting the Indian and Pakistani sectors by bus.
The hopes of millions of Kashmiris are riding on the success of the project, one of the most tangible signs of a fledgling peace after decades of enmity. Agreement to launch the bus service has stoked huge anticipation on both sides, with people separated from their families for decades lining up in their hundreds for travel permits to make 105-mile journey.
“I am really very excited,” said Ghulam Mohammad Lolabi, 83, flashing a victory sign in Muzaffarabad, capital of Pakistani Kashmir, after grabbing an application form for the permit.
“Many of my relatives’ living there (in Indian Kashmir) have died,” he said. “But I hope I can see those who are alive.”
Construction of the road began after nuclear-armed India and Pakistan agreed in, February to launch an historic bus service between -the two Kashmirs, divided by a half-century-old military cease-fire line. The service ‘it is hoped, will bolster the peace process between the South Asian rivals, whose competing claims over Kashmir have led to two of their three wars since independence in 1947. They went to the brink of another war in 2002.
The 15-yeir insurgency in which tens of thousands of people have died in Kashmir has also held back peace efforts. India accuses Pakistan of aiding the Guerrillas but Islamabad says the insurgency is an indigenous movement
RECONNECTING THE PAST
This month, Indian and Pakistani soldiers removed all land mines on the track, which was last used by a bus in 1948, ahead of the launch of the bus service on April 7.
“The entire road has been demined. It is now safe for journey,” Lieutenant-General Hari Prasad, who heads the Indian army’s northern command, said at Kaman Post, the last border post on the Indian side.
“We look at it as a very good step toward normalization of relations between India and Pakistan.” he said. This is going to be the one of the biggest confidence-building measure so far. Buses will man between Muzaffarabad and Srinagar restoring a service cut after the first war over Kashmir in 1947-48. A heavily mined 460-mile cease-fire line has I divided the scenic region ever since.
The bus service is the latest in a series of gestures between the neighbours to build trust since they embarked on a fresh peace drive in 2003. A cease-fire has largely held since that year.
This week, visiting journalists saw hundreds of Indian m Pakistani workers laying stones and rebuilding the last stretches of the Srinagar-Muzaffarabad road.
The cease-fire line at Kaman Post is marked by a small stream surrounded by towering mountains. A wooden bridge over the stream was blown up during the 1947-48 war and the remaining four piers are a symbol of the regions history of division — two piers belong to India and two to Pakistan
Labourers of the two countries were strengthening the lira pillar on their respective sides ahead of building a new bridge. As workers raced to finish the job. Indian and Pakistani soldiers stood relaxed around the area, a far cry | from the daily artillery and gunfire exchanges prior to the cease-fire.
“Everything will be ready before March 31, even before that.” Sardar Mohammad Rahim. a senior government official in Muzaffarabad told Reuters.
(Kashmir Observer, 19 March, 2005)