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Caravan of peace! Is it coming to a grinding halt

Written by: Staff

Srinagar, Apr 7 (UNI) The caravan of peace that began its journey with much excitement, expectations and speed on this day in 2005 has slowed down considerably during the past one year as evident by the waning enthusiasm among the families on both sides of the LoC.

Only 860 people from both Jammu and Kashmir and Pakistan-occupied Kashmir (PoK) have so far crossed the Line of Control (LoC) via Kaman Aman Setu (Peace Bridge) at the Kaman Post, Regional Passport Officer (RPO) S L Ramulu told UNI here.

He said out of these, 395 were from Jammu and Kashmir while 465 crossed over to this side from PoK.

About 6500 applications were received by the Regional Passport Office since the launch of the cross border bus service by Prime Minister Manmohan Singh from here on April 7 last year out of which 1900 have been submitted to the Pakistani authorities, 2500 to the Indian security agencies for clearance while the rest cleared for travel, Mr Ramulu added.

Even Jammu and Kashmir Chief Minister Ghulam Nabi Azad has regretted the lack of enthusiasm among the people from his state to cross over to PoK.

''Most of the people from Jammu and Kashmir who visit PoK for 15 days want to come back on time. But, it is also seen that when people from the other side travel to our state, about 90 per cent of them want to extend their visa,'' Mr Azad had told journalists at the LoC on February 20 after inaugurating the re-erected Kaman Aman Setu, which connects Uri with Muzaffarabad.

''We had hoped that there will be much enthusiasm among the people from both sides to travel across the LoC. But, we have not seen that much interest among them. As many as 400 coming and goings in eight months is not a big figure,'' the Chief Minister had said.

However, Mr Ramulu has a different version. ''We cannot expect enthusiasm and interest to sustain even after a year. Obviously, that time the enthusiasm was much more as the LoC had been thrown open after nearly 58 years,'' he said.

Mr Ramulu said the interest to cross the LoC at the Kaman Post would further decline as four other points have been opened from different areas. The LoC was opened at five places to exchange relief material for people affected by the devastating earthquake on October 8 last year on both sides of the divide, but now the same were being used as full-fledged crossing points, he added.

''In the coming days, the crossings will see an increase from Teethwal, Poonch and Rajouri instead of Kaman Post. People from Poonch and Rajouri intending to travel to PoK will find it much easier to cross the LoC from the nearest point,'' the RPO said.

The five points are Teethwal-Nauseri, Uri-Hajipeer, Kaman Post-Chakothi, Chakan-Da-Bagh-Rawalakote and Mendhar-Tattapani.

The past one year of the Srinagar-Muzaffarabad has seen many high and low points.

After the much-hyped inaugural run on April 7 last year, the fifth Karvaan-e-Aman on June two again came under intense media glare as a seven-member strong Hurriyat delegation besides JKLF chief Yasin Malik and DFP's Maulana Abdullah Taari boarded the trans-Kashmir bus to cross over to PoK .

The Hurriyat delegation included Chairman Mirwaiz Umar Farooq, Prof Abdul Ghani Bhat, Maulana Abbas Ansari, Bilal Ghani Lone, Fazal Haq Qureshi, Ghulam Mohammad Bhat and Mohammad Yaqoob Vakil.

Then came the devastating earthquake on October 8 last year which measured 7.6 on the richter scale and destroyed the historic 170-km Srinagar-Muzaffarabad road, also known as the Jhelum Valley road, at several places besides the peace bridge at the LoC as well.

The road was cleared by the Army's Border Roads Organisation (BRO) under ''Operation Imdad'' for light vehicular traffic on November two last year, less than a month after the quake, so that relief material could be sent across the LoC.

The reconstruction work on the damaged Kaman Aman Setu, which helped in breaking the barriers and joining the hearts of the people on either side of the LoC, had commenced in December last year and the 220-metre and 40 tonne bailey bridge was finally re-erected on February 11.

On February 16, only two passengers -- a woman and her son -- boarded the cross-border bus from here, the figure being this less for the first time since its launch.

The 15th cross-border bus had crossed the LoC on December one last year, nearly two months after the deadly quake while the 14th Karvaan-e-Aman had rolled out from Srinagar on October 6, two days before the temblor struck on both sides of the LoC.

The bus service was again suspended for a month in March on the request of the Pakistani authorities as they informed their Indian counterparts that the Muzaffarabad-Chakothi road had been damaged at several places due to landslides triggered by heavy rains.

The trans-Kashmir bus finally resumed its journey on March 30.


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