SRINAGAR, India – The continuous suspension of bus services linking parts of Kashmir divided between India and Pakistan has caused a harrowing wait for the separated families living on the two sides of the disputed Himalayan region.
The two services have been shut since Aug. 4, a day before India revoked the semi-autonomous status of the portion of Kashmir under its control, a contentious move that threw the troubled state into fresh turmoil.
Officials said the weekly services were suspended for seven days after a request from Pakistan for some repair work on a bridge on its side.
“There is no word from the (Pakistani) side to resume the cross LoC bus service so far,” a government officer, requesting anonymity, told EFE. He did not link the suspension with the current trouble in the state.
However, police and defense sources told EFE that the bus service could not be resumed due to the prevailing border tensions after India revoked the special status of Kashmir, which Pakistan called illegal. Islamabad also halted two railway links and suspended bilateral trade to protest the decision.
“Pakistani troops have been violating the ceasefire more frequently, targeting forward posts and civilian areas,” a defense source said, adding continuing the bus service would have “put the passengers in danger.”
The interruption has agonized a large number of families who wanted to meet their relatives or attend weddings or funerals in the Pakistani portion of Kashmir.
“My wife wanted to travel to Muzaffarabad to join her cousins after her uncle passed away in the last week of July,” Gulzar Ahmad, a resident of south Kashmir’s Shopian, told EFE. “She had applied for a permit on July 26, but to no avail.”
The continuous suspension of mobile phone and internet services in Indian Kashmir, according to Gulzar, has added to the trauma of his wife who is unable to even talk to her cousins.
Jafar Hassan from north Kashmir’s Bandipora district told EFE that his father Ghulam Hassan wished to see his brother on the other side of the border. But the wish remains unfulfilled due to Ghulam’s death in the first week of August.
“I had informed my uncle about (my father’s) illness. He had promised to visit (us) soon. But things have changed since then,” Jafar told EFE.
“My uncle living in Chakoti area of Pakistan-administered Kashmir is yet to know about the passing away of his brother,” he added.
Government sources told EFE that hundreds of applications were lying in the Kashmir Divisional Commissioner’s office in Srinagar, the main city of Indian Kashmir, of people who have applied for permits to travel to Pakistani Kashmir.
The services were started in 2005 and 2006 from two border crossings, closed in 1948 after the first India-Pakistan war that ended with Kashmir divided between the two neighbors, months after their independence and the partition of the subcontinent.
Due to tough visa restrictions, it was difficult – if not impossible – for thousands of divided Kashmiri families living only a few miles away from each other to visit either side of the Line of Control, the de-facto border.
The bus service liberalized the visa regime and has allowed residents with relatives living across the border to travel on special permits in place of passports and visas, even as security clearances are a must and can be cumbersome.
The cross LoC bus service was considered one of the biggest confidence-building measures between the two nuclear rivals who have fought three wars, including two over Kashmir, and many minor military conflicts in the last 70 years.
The two countries also allowed cross-border barter trade from 2008, which was suspended in April this year after India alleged that the service was being used by militants based in Pakistan to send “illegal weapons, narcotics, and fake currency” into India.
Raashid Maqbool, an analyst, said the measures were “half-hearted” attempts by the two sides and bound to collapse.
“The introduction of cross LoC bus service or trade activity was a bid to lure the angry and agitated Kashmiri people,” Maqbool told EFE.
“The non-serious attempt was also eyewash to exhibit that New Delhi and Islamabad were moving towards a final resolution of the decades-old dispute, so it was bound to fail.”