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Kartarpur Corridor and Agony of Kashmiris

While Kartarpur corridor opening announcement is greeted along both sides of the borders, the divided families of Jammu Kashmir share the cheering enthusiastically but with agony and melancholy






by Nayyar N Khan

( November 24, 2018, Boston , Sri Lanka Guardian) Government of Pakistan on Thursday welcomed the Indian cabinet's announcement to commence the construction of the Kartarpur corridor, calling it a "victory of peace". Furthermore, this step is overwhelmingly esteemed on both sides of Radcliffe Line as a step towards the right direction and a hope to encourage voice of reasons and tranquility on both sides of the border in India and Pakistan.

This great news is announced at the occasion of 550th birthday of Baba Guru Nanak and Prime Minister Pakistan would welcome the Sikh Pilgrims on 28th of November at Kartarpur. The corridor will connect Dera Baba Nanak in Indian Punjab's Gurdaspur to Kartarpur in Pakistan's Narowal district where the Gurdwara Darbar Sahib — the shrine of revered saint Baba Guru Nanak — is situated. Although the apparent reason to open this corridor is aimed to promote religious tourism facilitating Sikh pilgrims, majority of whom is living in Indian state of Punjab, but hopefully this step would pave the path towards greater much needed peace in a hostile sub-continent.

While Kartarpur corridor opening announcement is greeted along both sides of the borders, the divided families of Jammu Kashmir share the cheering enthusiastically but with agony and melancholy. Although a direct bus service between Srinagar and Muzaffarabad and then between Poonch and Hajira was initiated in the aftermaths of composite dialogues during Musharraf and Vajpayee era in Pakistan and India yet for many thousand families to visit across Line of Control (LoC) to meet their love ones, cultural, social and religious tourism is still a distant dream in divided Jammu Kashmir.

Over seven decades people living in Indian and Pakistani administrated parts of Jammu Kashmir have seen UN- backed ceasefire line converting into LoC during Shimla accord of 1972 but one entire generation has almost perished with the hope to cross the CFL or LoC to visit their birth places which they left amid riots of 1947. There are many instances that the distance between divided family members is merely few hundred meters but living in two different administrated regions this distance of few hundred meters could not be covered in seven decades and it is the third and fourth generation of those families now.

Both India and Pakistan are signatories of International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (ICESCR-1966) and article 1 of ICESCR says that that the widest possible protection and assistance should be accorded to the family, which is the natural and fundamental group unit of society. Yet since the 1947 division of Jammu Kashmir, families living on either side of the LOC have been denied the right to reunite. The situation of many Kashmiri families is as absurd as it is tragic. In many areas of Jammu, Rajouri, Poonch Mendhar and Kathua in Indian-administrated Kashmir, for instance, many residents have at least a family member on the other side of the Line of Control (LoC) or their parental villages and properties which were left behind during the 1947 riots when tribal invaded Jammu Kashmir. Same is the case with Pakistani administered region where many of the families left land, properties and relatives on other side when religiously charged environment forced them to flee amid blood and tears in 1947. Only a few among those who practically witnessed the 1947 partition of Jammu Kashmir are alive at the moment. Social media is full of the video and audio clips of those elderly persons who at this brink of their life want to visit their birth places on either side. With tears in their eyes they urge India and Pakistan to bring peace and hope in their lives. In only last two weeks I came across dozens of video clips on social media where the “still breathing generation of 1947” urges that the time has come to demolish this "line of hatred" and pass on a legacy of love and peace to future generations.

While typing these lines I am hoping to bring the plight of Kashmiri families divided in Indian and Pakistani administrated parts of Jammu Kashmir by the LoC to the attention of the Indian and Pakistan governments. These families urge the policy makers at Delhi and Islamabad to consider the, right of these families to visit their love ones and birth places as a humanitarian issue that transcends regional and political conflicts. These families call for the right to freedom of movement across LoC to be recognized, the building of family reunion centers along the LoC under international observation, and guarantees regarding the safety of civilians crossing the LoC.

Both India and Pakistan as well as the international community are obliged to work to reunite Kashmiri families as a matter cutting across all rights, be they economic, social cultural rights or civil and political rights. As article 12 (1) of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR-1966) guarantees rights to freedom of movement and residence “within the territory of a State". Given that the LoC divided Kashmiris only in 1947, for purposes of family reunion and visit to birth places, religious, social and cultural tourism they should be treated as part of one territory and they are entitled to this right till the final settlement of Kashmir conflict as per international law to which both India and Pakistan agreed in 1948-49. Although crossing the LoC is technically a movement from one territory to the other at present, relaxing or removing restrictions or prolonged delays to obtain the necessary permits to cross it would be a magnificent humanitarian gesture by both sides that would bring great relief to thousands of persons. Indeed, the reopening of a direct bus service between Srinagar (Indian-administrated Kashmir) and Muzaffarabad (Pakistani-administrated Kashmir) in October 2003 and Hajira-Poonch in 2008 had brightened the hopes of reunion for many Kashmiri families. However, much more remains to be done.

In light of the above and taking into account the recent family reunions in Korean Peninsula as well as opening of Kartarpur corridor for Sikh pilgrims, Kashmiris hope and demand to Delhi and Islamabad that both should initiate efforts to reunite all Kashmiri families at the nearest possible date and point, while minimizing restrictions on rights of movement and residence. In this respect, in addition to the Srinagar-Muzaffarabad road, Poonch–Hajira road, all the possible routes including Sakurdu-Kargil, Jammu-Bhimber, Mandhar-Tata Pani routes should be opened without delay, and administrative requirements of travel should be eased by considering State Subject as travel document.

This single humanitarian act on behalf of India and Pakistan can give a ray of hope to those who left their homes amid uncertain circumstances in 1947 that they would return as the normalcy returns in their country but it has been seven awful decades since then. Only a few are remaining from the generation of 1940s and an immediate humanitarian attention could bring the hopes back which are already shadowed by war-hysteria.




(Nayyar N Khan is a US based, human rights and peace activist and a freelance journalist. His area of concentration is international peace and conflict resolution. He can be reached at globalpeace2002@hotmail.com. He tweets as @kashsoul)

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