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The Washington Post, July 4, 2001

Worlds Apart In Kashmir
Pakistanis in Riven Region Expect Little in India Talks

By Pamela Constable


Half a century ago, a twisting mountain highway united this remote Kashmiri city with Srinagar, Kashmir's scenic tourist mecca 75 miles to the east. Trucks carrying apples and timber plied the route, and three bus companies ferried visitors daily between the two stops.

Today, Srinagar might as well be on another planet. In 1947, when Pakistan was created, the Kashmir region was split in two and Srinagar became part of India. The road is now closed at the border, known as the Line of Control, and Indian and Pakistani troops regularly shell each other across a no man's land of barbed wire scrolls.

Kashmiris here, many of whom have not seen their relatives from Srinagar in decades, still dream of the day the road will reopen. A few dare to hope that bus service between the two cities will resume as a result of the July 14-16 summit in Agra, India, between Pakistan's president, Gen. Pervez Musharraf, and India's prime minister, Atal Bihari Vajpayee.

"My father took me to Srinagar on the bus when I was 9. I remember the good food and the beautiful gardens," recalled Qazi Ghulam Murtazar, 63, a pharmacist and mosque leader. "If the road were open today, we would all want to visit. But if Vajpayee and Musharraf don't find a solution," he vowed, "we Kashmiris will liberate it from India ourselves."

In other parts of Pakistan, many people hope the upcoming summit will bring a miraculous breakthrough in the stubborn, exhausting problem of Kashmir. Both countries claim the region, and they have fought two wars over it. Since 1990, the Indian portion has been wracked by violence between security forces and Pakistan-backed insurgents, claiming tens of thousands of lives. But in this hardscrabble mountain region, which hosts tens of thousands of refugees from Indian Kashmir and sponsors clandestine training camps for Kashmiri guerrillas, people's opinions are set in the stone of suspicion and bitterness.

Most Kashmiris here place little hope in the upcoming talks between the two leaders of South Asia's neighboring nuclear rivals. They express deep mistrust of India's motives and say they do not want Musharraf to concede an inch on Pakistan's claims to Kashmir. At the very least, they demand that government troops withdraw from the Indian portion and that its inhabitants be granted the right to determine their future.

New Delhi claims the region is an "integral" part of India and insists it will never relinquish the territory. "Everyone here wants a solution, but not one that damages the Kashmir cause," said Chaudry Latif Raja, a local official of the Pakistan People's Party. "If Musharraf signs something that favors Kashmir, fine. If he doesn't, the fight will continue. . . . We have passed the point of no return." Raja's party is one of three major political groups currently fighting for 40 state assembly seats in Azad (Free) Kashmir, which enjoys semi-autonomous status in Pakistan as a disputed territory. The elections will be held Thursday, and there is only one major theme: the "liberation" of what Pakistanis call "Occupied Kashmir" in India.

Candidates are vying to outdo each other in championing the Kashmiri insurgents, and 12 assembly seats are set aside to symbolically represent voters in the Indian-controlled portion of Kashmir. "We support Musharraf going to India, but we want to tell him not to forget the tens of thousands of Kashmiris who have sacrificed their lives for this cause," said Naim Kwajah, 21, a campaign volunteer for Jamiat-e-Islami, a conservative Muslim party that is rapidly gaining electoral strength in the state.

The division between the two Kashmirs is especially painful for refugees who fled Indian Kashmir after the insurgency erupted there in 1990 and Indian troops occupied the area. Many now live in camps of cement huts, receiving generous allowances from the Pakistan government. But most left behind parents, siblings and other relatives and have had virtually no contact with them in a decade. Despite their yearning for reunion, however, refugees living in camps here voice especially unyielding opinions about the futility of talks with India. Their memories of humiliation and harassment at the hands of Indian troops are still vivid, and many are convinced that India's offer to negotiate is a trick.

"No one likes to live outside their home, and half my family is still there. Of course I miss them," said Ibrahim Shah, 58, a farmer from Kupwara in Indian Kashmir who lives with his wife and six children in Manakpian Refugee Camp. He wept as he recounted how Indian forces used to drag his family members from their home during search raids. "Here," he said, "at least I am free."

Like many refugees, Shah said he is convinced the negotiations between Musharraf and Vajpayee will be fruitless. "India talks of peace, but it is not ready to give Kashmiris independence," he said. "Nothing will change unless America or Britain puts pressure on India like they did [on Iraq] in [the Persian Gulf War], but they are not interested in helping us. We don't have oil here, we only have apples."

Gul Zaman, 36, another refugee from Kupwara living in Manakpian with his family, said "six or seven" of his relatives had been missing for years since being picked up by Indian security forces across the border. But he said that in a way, the unrelenting violence in Indian Kashmir had given him some hope for the summit.

"Kashmiris are dying, but Indian forces are dying, too," he said. "I think India is serious about wanting peace, and I hope something good will come from these talks."

In central Muzaffarabad, a large sign in Urdu still says, "Srinagar -- 183 kilometers," or about 115 miles on the winding mountain road. But a large painted model of a Pakistan-made rocket points the way toward India, and drivers stopping for tea said they doubted the road past the border would be reopened in their lifetimes.

"There is a lot of rhetoric for peace now, but I have very little hope," said Mohammed Shabbir, 37, a driver who was born in Muzaffarabad. "We will be very happy if Musharraf and Vajpayee can agree to something, but Vajpayee is a hypocrite. He wants to spare the army, but he will never allow that part of Kashmir to be free. Anything else is worthless."

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