Srinagar: India and Pakistan have quietly rolled back the cross-LoC Karawan-e-Aman bus post abrogation of Article 370 in Jammu and Kashmir.

The cross-LoC peace bus service aimed at reuniting divided families of Jammu and Kashmir and Pakistan Occupied Kashmir (PoK) to facilitate people-to-people contact and boost the peace process. It is often considered the mother of all confidence-building measures (CBMs) between India and Pakistan.

Initially, the bus service started only on the Srinagar-Muzaffarabad route in April 2005. After its unbeaten run, the Centre opened Poonch-Rawalakot road and started cross LoC bus service in June 2006.

However, fourteen years later, the cross LoC bus has quietly faded into oblivion. “Post Pulwama attack, the bus has not plied on the Srinagar-Muzaffarabad road,” said Riyaz Malik, Sub-divisional Magistrate in Uri.

Come August 5, the peace bus was suspended from both routes in Jammu and Kashmir. “Basically, after August 5, Pakistan has not opened the gate (on Chakan Da Bagh crossing in Poonch). They have opened the gate only once for the exchange of stranded passengers. There were 25 passengers from PoK stranded on this side. Two of our residents were stranded on the other side,” said Rahul Yadav, District Development Commissioner from Poonch.

Later, they approached Pakistan authorities so that the exchange of passengers could take place. “We once ferried passengers up to immigration point, but PoK authorities did not respond, and the exchange did not take place. Perhaps, after three weeks, Pakistani authorities opened the gate and finally exchanged the stranded passengers. Since then, the bus service has remained suspended,” said Yadav.

However, authorities in Poonch continue to follow the drill regularly every Monday irrespective of Pakistan authorities’ decision not to open the gates.

“Every Monday, we go up to the zero line and follow the drill. We follow the standard operating procedure, but there is no response from PoK. Usually, if you analyse the data of four to five years, very few people from our side have visited PoK. However, there are lot many people from PoK who travelled by bus to our side,” said Yadav.

Data reveals that as many as 799 visitors from PoK visited the Valley in 2018. Around 215 from Kashmir crossed over to the other side of LoC last year.

“This bus was acting as a bridge between divided families on both sides. Since 1947, so many families were divided. Somebody’s brother was living here, and somebody’s sister was living there. They could come and meet their relatives when the bus was operational. Now if anyone wants to meet their relative, they have to take the Wagah route and it needs a passport and visa. Our people are very simple, and they do not have much knowledge about it,” said Mohammad Rafiq Balote, Chairman of the Block Development Council, Uri.

 

Ishfaq Ul Hassan

An accredited journalist with 22 years of professional experience, Ishfaq-Ul-Hassan has worked as a reporter based in Kashmir for two decades. He has covered various beats including militancy, politics, defence, minorities, social issues, religious groups and women issues in Kashmir. He had previously worked as Special Correspondent in Jammu and Kashmir for DNA (Daily News and Analysis) Newspaper for 13 years. Ishfaq is also associated with the New Delhi- based television company `Asia Pacific Communication Associates’ which produced the famous series “Subah-Bakhar-Kashmir” for satellite Kashmir channel of Doordarshan. In 2004, he was awarded the Charkha-Sanjoy Ghosh Fellowship for Peace and Development for his research on families divided across the LOC in Kashmir.

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