urge to merge on the Line of Control
A journey through rugged mountainous
terrain to the forward-most Pakistani military post in Azad Kashmir
By Ameen Izzadeen
Across the 200-metre wide valley, we could see the Indian soldiers.
There were some civilians, including women and children. They were
like us, visitors to the Line of Control, our Pakistani military
host told us. He allowed us to use a pair of powerful binoculars
mounted on a tripod to see what was happening on the Indian front.
they were shooting.”
How could it be? There is no tension on the border. Besides, Pakistan
President Pervez Musharraf and Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh
are talking peace.
Indian soldier manning the forward-most defence line was not using
his gun. He was shooting with his powerful camera and we could see
his fingers clicking. Probably, our pictures will be analysed by
Indian intelligence, the Research and Analysis Wing (RAW). We waved
at the Indians, but there was no waving back.
my eyes off the binoculars, I asked Lt. Colonel Chiragh Haider,
who was conducting our guided tour, whether the Indians would train
their guns on us? “Don’t worry, you are in safe hands,”
the officer assured us.
could not see much of a fortification on the Pakistani side. But
on the Indian side, we could see a long fence, much of which, I
was told, was electrified. The absence of heavy guns on the Pakistani
side prompted me to ask Lt. Col. Haider whether they were prepared
if the Indians launched a foray into their side.Sporting a wry smile
he said: “They’d better not. If they try to be more
adventurous, we will give them a fitting response.”
were at the Line of Control, after a seven hour drive from Islamabad
and an overnight stay at Muzaffarabad. The Line of Control has seen
three full-scale wars, several near wars and hundreds, if not thousands,
of skirmishes and forays, prompting a wag to comment that “it
is actually a line of no control”.
six member Sri Lankan media delegation, representing The Sunday
Times, the Daily Mirror, Lankadeepa, the Island, the Sunday Leader
and the Sunday Observer, left Islamabad around 5 p.m. We were the
guests of the Islamabad Policy Research Institute (IPRI), a semi-government
half an hour, our Mercedes van was winding its way up the mountains.
The journey was pleasant for the first couple of hours, but after
that, it was bends all the way. A bend to the left, a bend to the
right and they came in quick succession as we were pushed this way
and that way. I wished I had taken an Avomin tablet or two. The
tediousness of the ride was in contrast to the scenic beauty on
both sides of the narrow road.
passed Murree, a scenic holiday resort which reminded us of Nuwara
Eliya. Then we stopped briefly at a place where a military vehicle
was waiting to escort us through the rest of our journey. We asked
whether we were being given security because the government suspected
that there could be a RAW agent among us.
research officer Sultan Hassan, who had been taking care of us since
our plane touched down at the Karachi airport on July 24, said it
was the usual practice when foreign delegates visit Kashmir which
the Pakistanis call Azad Kashmir or liberated Kashmir.
we saw a board, saying, “No foreigners are allowed beyond
Foreigners need permission to visit Azad Kashmir. As night fell,
I tried to sleep to get over the nausea. The night and the nausea
kept me away from the beauty of the river Jhelum which, on our journey
back, was like a blue lace to the skirting road hundreds of feet
above the ravine. It starts from the Indian side of Kashmir and
flows freely across the Line of Control.
10 p.m., we reached Muzaffarabad, the capital of Azad Kashmir, which
the Indians call Pakistan occupied or Pakistan held Kashmir (POK
or PHK). The province is Pakistan administered but has its own government
and a prime minister.
looks like a girl weeping for her twin sister, who lives on the
other side of the Line of Control. She refuses to wear jewellery
or the mirror-worked colourful salwars until her sister is reunited
were checked in for an overnight stay at Muzaffarabad’s only
luxury hotel, the humble Sangam, where cobwebs added beauty to our
rooms and where river water was served as drinking water. I liked
the hotel which overlooked the confluence where the River Neelam
becomes one with Jhelum. Sangam means union – the union of
following day, soon after breakfast, we began our journey to Chakothi
along what is known as the Srinagar Road – the road that leads
to the capital of the Indian side of Kashmir, which the Pakistanis
call the Indian-occupied or Indian-held Kashmir (IOK or IHK).
more than half a century, the Srinagar Road had not led to Srinagar.
It was only in April this year that a fortnightly bus service was
started between Srinagar and Muzaffarabad across the Line of Control
for people of both sides of Kashmir to visit relatives and return.
journey along the mountainous terrain took us through scores of
villages where the simple life of the people added colour to the
breathtaking landscape along the Jhelum.
a two-hour ride, we were at the Chakothi brigade headquarters where
Lt. Col. Haider made a multi-media presentation, explaining the
Kashmiri crisis and the situation along the 767 km-long Line of
Control, which was initially known as the Ceasefire Line.
line was formally established under the Karachi Agreement between
India and Pakistan in July 1949 — a year after the two countries
fought a bitter war over this princely state, the fate of which
was left in abeyance by the Redcliff Boundary Commission that drew
the partition plan of the subcontinent.
by Viceroy Louis Mountbatten to convince the Maharajah of Kashmir,
a Hindu, to cede the Muslim-majority province to Pakistan failed.
And in 1948, when Pakistani tribes raided Kashmir and were on the
outskirts of capital Srinagar, the Maharajah signed a document,
ceding the state to India. The war that followed ended after UN
intervention with Pakistan controlling one third of Kashmir and
India the rest.
then, Kashmir has remained divided along the ceasefire line - with
brother on one side, sister on the other side, mother on one side,
son on the other and in some cases, the husband on one side and
the wife on the other.
The ceasefire agreement came to be known as the Line of Control
after the 1972 Simla agreement which was signed after the third
Lt. Col. Haider said the LOC extended in a curvy way over rugged
terrain near Jammu through the Kargil area and across the Siachen
Glacier up to the Himalayas near China's Sinkiang province.
officer said the LOC, supervised by the United Nations Military
Observer Group in India and Pakistan (UNMOGIP), was not clearly
marked and the people of Azad Kashmir did not accept the validity
of the line. After he answered our questions regarding cross-border
activities and confidence-building measures, we were taken to the
mountainous jungle terrain extends on both sides of the main LOC
point, It was patently clear that policing the LOC was a difficult
task even for a superpower Army. With no clear demarcations and
the terrain being nearly inaccessible, it seemed to me that the
LOC which ran up and down mountains - with the altitude varying
from 10,000 to 22,000 feet - was more a concept than a well-defined
is a taboo political word as far as Kashmir is concerned, because
both India and Pakistan stake a claim to the whole of Kashmir. Pakistan
demands that India should allow a UN supervised plebiscite in Kashmir
for the people of Kashmir to decide on its fate in terms of two
UN resolutions. But New Delhi insists that the whole of Kashmir
belongs to India and there could be no compromise.
saw a bridge over a small valley, connecting the two Kashmirs on
the Muzaffarabad-Srinagar Road. The bridge made news in April this
year, when, for the first time in 58 years, bus services were started
between the two Kashmirs.
carrying entry permits - no visas were issued - were brought in
buses from Srinagar and Muzaffarabad up to this bridge, where they
changed buses after crossing the bridge. The buses did not cross
the bridge. On Wednesday, the ninth such bus service brought and
took people from both sides.
called it the monkey bridge," Lt. Col. Haider said. I asked
He said that after the two countries agreed to start the bus service,
the task of renovating the old bridge that had remained unused for
58 years was given to the Indians who painted it in the tri-colours
of the Indian flag - saffron, white and light green. When the Pakistanis
protested, the Indians suggested that the one half of the bridge
be painted in the Indian colours and Pakistanis paint the other
half dark green and white. The Pakistanis scoffed at the idea saying
the bridge would look like a monkey bridge. Eventually, the two
countries agreed to paint the bridge white.
bridge now allows only people of Kashmir to move from one side to
the other after they are thoroughly screened.Pakistanis, Indians
and foreigners cannot use the bus service. If you are a non-Kashmiri
and want to travel from the point from where we were to where the
Indian forward post is - some 200 metres away within waving distance
- you probably have to take several road rides and at least two
flights over three days to get there.
a half-an-hour stay, we left the Pakistani military post, pitying
the people on both sides. They speak one language and are one people,
but politics has divided them for no offence of theirs.