Kashmir has been disputed by India and Pakistan since the partition of the subcontinent in 1947. The two neighbours, now nuclear powers, have twice waged war over Kashmir, which is over 60% Muslim. The mountainous region is divided by a Line of Control, often breached by separatist militants.The Indian side - Jammu and Kashmir state - is home to about nine million people. Some three million live in the northern part administered by Pakistan.
Islamabad says Kashmir should have become part of Pakistan in 1947 because of the province's Muslim majority. Kashmir was free to become part of India or Pakistan but its ruler held out hoping to remain independent. But in October 1947, Pakistani-backed tribesmen invaded Kashmir. The maharaja ceded to India which promised to hold a UN-supervised plebiscite. Kashmir has never been allowed to vote on its future. India says a solution must be found through bilateral talks.
The first Indo-Pakistani war started with the October 1947 incursion and the arrival of Indian forces in Kashmir.The conflict ended in January 1949. A ceasefire line - now known as the Line of Control - was agreed and the UN recommended a referendum on accession. War broke out again in 1965 after a Pakistani offensive across the line. In 1999, fighting between Indian and Pakistani-backed forces in Indian Kashmir led to a new conflict but not full-scale war.
Since 1989, Kashmir has seen a growing, and often violent, Muslim separatist movement against Indian rule. Some separatists favour independence, others would like Kashmir to be part of Pakistan. India says Pakistan gives the militants logistical and material support - a claim rejected by Islamabad. Years of separatist attacks and cross-border firing between the Indian and Pakistani armies have left tens of thousands of people dead.
In 2004 Pakistan and India embarked on a peace process - major sticking points on both sides have yet to be overcome. Delhi would like the Line of Control to become an international border, while Islamabad would like Muslim-majority areas to become part of Pakistan. Pakistan wants the separatists included in the talks, but India says there is no space for any third party.
April 7th 2005 is already being hailed as historic for Kashmir. The 100 year old Muzzafarabad to Srinagar highway has finally re-opened, enabling long-separated Kashmiri families to re-unite. Cutting through an impasse that has existed since the Partition of India in 1947 and barely a dream until recently.
|India border with Pakistan in Kashmir|
For someone who has lived in Britain since the age of four, the significance of Kashmir in the Indian subcontinent didn’t dawn on me until one March afternoon in 1988 on my first visit back to my birthplace. As I was strolling through my Naana’s (maternal grandfather) land in Gurutta (my birthplace in Pakistani-administered Kashmir-PAK), a relative came up to me and whispered that my Naani’s (maternal grandmother) mother had died in India.
The shock was double-edged – death naturally but what was she doing in India? At the time there was a jingoistic hatred of India amongst the locals, although you wouldn’t deduce that from the daily dose of films and music that were consumed in the region.
I rushed straight back to my Naani to find her sitting mutely in her Rosoi (a small mud-hut of a kitchen) where she narrated in detail, the saga of 1947. Born into a Hindu Brahmin family in the early 1930’s (people weren’t particular about their DOB’s at the time), her birthplace was in a village near present-day Nikyal in (PAK), barely a stone’s throw away from what was to emerge as the line of control (LOC) dividing Kashmir between India and Pakistan.
|"All being well, I intend to take my grandparents South, through the plains of Punjab, crossing the border at Wagah-Attari before venturing back North."|
|Tanveer hopes to reunite his family after 58 years apart.|
As news of mounting death-tolls in the Punjab reached Kashmir, Hindus who found themselves in (PAK) frantically left everything they had (land, property, buffalos etc) and pushed East towards India and safety. Amongst them was of course my Hindu Naani.
However, as is inevitable during wartime, mass migration often involves people losing pace with fellow migrants. This is the point where she last saw her parents and siblings and that very evening met my Muslim Naana who brought her home to Gurutta (c.65km west of Nikyal) and promptly married her.
Fifty-eight years on, not only have her parents passed away (her mother dying in 1988 of course) but coming from a family of two sons and two daughters, only she and her ailing older sister in Mendhar, Indian-administered Kashmir (IAK) remain today.
When I heard this story in 1988, I was furious and found it difficult to understand why my Naana hadn’t made an effort to re-unite her with her family. Consequently, I made three attempts since 1989 to take her to (IAK) only to be vetoed by him.
His major concern was, once gone, she wouldn’t return, as was the case with many other women who shared the same fate in 1947.
It is only now with this new wave of optimism that he has finally conceded. Indeed, he has already left for Pakistan in pursuit of an Indian visa for himself and my Naani. Meanwhile, I’m still here waiting for mine.
|Pakistan army on the Line of Control|
In 1989 I even went to visit her family in Mendhar (IAK) in what was truly an unforgettable experience. My Naani’s younger brother who sadly passed away last year, pleaded that I bring her there, even if only for a day! Her sister refused to lose sight of me in all the few days that I was there.
By 1994, I finally made peace with myself and resorted to patience, remembering that Kashmir had historically been a peaceful region. Muslim Sufi saints and Hindu Pandits having held sway for centuries, not to forget the plethora of poets that have either graced the land or been mesmerised by it’s idyllic beauty. A peaceful breakthrough was always inevitable.
Lo and behold, the eventual thawing of relations between the two nuclear powers has gradually opened the world’s eyes as to how much yearning Kashmiris from either side of the (LOC) have for each other. Some even contemplated gathering in their thousands, in an attempt to accompany the respective buses as they left for their maiden journey, quoting the falling of the ‘Berlin Wall’ as an analogy.
Now that the ‘genie is out of the bottle’, a once fortnightly bus service is unlikely to quench the thirst that 58 years of separation has created. Furthermore, this is only one route and is not feasible for linkage to other parts of Kashmir. Thus, a road from Kotli (PAK) to Rajauri (IAK), Rawalakot (PAK) to Poonch (IAK) and even Mirpur (PAK) to Jammu (IAK) would be what Kashmiris may clamour for in the near future. Commercially, the mere thought is irresistible.
|Indian soldiers on border with Pakistan |
To illustrate further, even if I were to take my Naani on the Muzzafarabad-Srinagar highway, it would involve a rectangular journey through mountainous terrain covering at least 1000km. In stark contrast, a road from Kotli (PAK) to Rajauri (IAK) would have been a fairly straightforward route covering little more 100km.
Thus, all being well, I intend to take my grandparents South, through the plains of Punjab, crossing the border at Wagah-Attari before venturing back North towards Jammu and eventually Mendhar.
Rejoicing at re-union, forgiving and trying to forget the horrors of yesteryear, which led to the displacement and deaths of many an innocent people is the theme. In this respect, I am fortunate to have attained the support of my Hindu uncle (a relative of my Naani) in Birmingham.
Our journey to (IAK) will hopefully be reciprocated by him and other family members travelling to (PAK) in the not too distant future. We share what is now emerging as an increasingly common stance amongst Kashmiris, that irrespective of political, religious or tribal loyalties; the people of the region want to mix and mingle so that they can reunite as families, appreciate their common heritage, quell the stagnancy that exists in their communities and re-ignite their passion for culture and commerce.
Aside from my appreciation of India and Pakistan for having taken peace initiatives beyond the cricket field, it is important to acknowledge Britain’s role in providing an environment conducive to Indians. Pakistanis and Kashmiris interacting harmoniously and providing living proof that successful societies emerge through co-operation, not separation.
It is ironic that Kashmiris in Britain, form most certainly the largest Kashmiri community outside of Kashmir and possibly the largest ethnic community in Britain.
My story is one of many that Kashmiris from all walks of life have experienced over the last 58 years. Nevertheless, despite scepticism in some quarters, therapeutic re-assurance comes from none other than the Indian premier Manmohan Singh, "The caravan of peace has started. Nothing can stop it."