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Poonch all set to welcome PoK passengers

For many in Jammu & Kashmir, the Poonch-Rawalkot bus service to start on June 19 is like an answer to a prayer.

india Updated: May 14, 2006 10:31 IST

For septuagenarian Ghulam Hussain, the Poonch-Rawalkot bus service to start on June 19 is like an answer to a prayer.

For nearly two decades, Hussain and some of his family members in Pakistan-occupied Kashmir gathered on both side of a running stream near the Line of Control to just see each other, if not touch, hoping that some day the painful distance would be bridged.

"Before 1990, we used to get together near the stream or near the LoC and update ourselves with the happenings in each others lives. Though we could not touch, seeing each other was solace enough," Hussain said.

"However, it has been a long time since I heard from my brother who lives in Bagh (PoK)", he said.

When the first bus from Rawalkot rolls into this district next month, it will bring with it a long-overdue joyous reunion cutting across faiths.

In any case, the preparations have already begun.

"Borders can divide the land but not the hearts of the people" - a billboard put up to welcome the first passengers from PoK reads.

Poonch district was the worst-hit when the LoC was drawn through villages dividing hundreds of families, Farooq Ahmad Mir said.

Mir said he had two uncles living on the other side of the LoC who were expected to arrive here aboard the first Poonch-Rawalakot bus next month.

"Our relatives did not choose to migrate to the other side. We did not have an option as after the war my uncles suddenly found that they could not come to their family home", Mir said.

Hussain blames the eruption of militancy in the state for widening the communication gap between the divided families.

Although many residents of this border area have visited their relations in PoK through international travel routes, the opportunities to get together have been few, cumbersome and expensive for the generally impoverished people here.

However, cross-border marriages have happened and brought together families, if only for a brief time.

"Even then only the fortunate ones get the visa to travel", Altaf Ahmad, who works as a security guard in a private firm at Jammu, complained.

Even minority communities comprising mostly Sikhs and Hindus are eager to visit PoK as some of them have relatives there who have since converted to Islam.

"It does not matter what their faith is. They are our flesh and blood and we would like to meet them", said an elderly Sikh who has a brother on the other side.

Preparations are almost complete on the Indian side with the road leading to the LoC macadamized and work on immigration-cum-customs complex in full swing.