Another Indo-Pak road to peace

The road connecting Poonch in the Jammu region and Rawalakote in PoK will be thrown open after 57 long years.

india Updated: Jun 02, 2006 12:55 IST

Excitement is palpable in this border district of Jammu and Kashmir as the nearly six-decade wait for meeting their family members and friends in Pakistan will end on June 19.

That is when the road connecting Poonch in the Jammu region to Rawalakote in PoK will be thrown open after 57 long years.

Almost each family living in Poonch has relatives across the Line of Control (LoC) that divides Jammu and Kashmir between India and Pakistan.

The people on both sides of the border share a common language and culture.

The security establishment is working overtime to secure the town for Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, who is expected to flag off the inaugural Poonch-Rawalakote bus service.

The reopening of the Poonch-Rawalakote road follows the opening of the Srinagar-Muzaffarabad road in April last year and is another confidence building measure (CBM) between New Delhi and Islamabad to take forward the peace process.

In preparation for the prime minister's visit, checkpoints have been erected at sensitive points in the insurgency-infested district.

District police officer SD Jamwal, who is supervising the security measures, said the troopers were being extra cautious after three improvised explosive device (IED) blasts in the district in May.

Unmindful of the high security scenario, residents in Poonch are counting the days till they finally meet their relatives across the LoC in Rawalakote.

Ram Nayak, a resident of Poonch town, said he and his family were eager to travel across to Pakistan-administered Kashmir.

"This is the best thing to happen to us since the country's independence. We have always been neglected. For covering a distance of a few kilometres, it took years," Nayak said.

Nayak's cousins, whom he has never seen after the route was closed in 1948, live in Rawalakote.

"I used to play with them when we were kids. Today when I am an old man I am getting an opportunity to see them again," he said, visibly happy.

After the deadly earthquake of October in the Kashmir region claimed around 72,000 lives and left some three million homeless, a few checkpoints were opened on the LoC for distribution of relief to the victims.

At the time, relatives of former prime minister of Pakistani Kashmir Sardar Sikander Hayat Khan had crossed the LoC through the Chakan Da Bagh checkpoint in Poonch to meet Khan and his family.

Initially, Poonch-Rawalakote was scheduled to be the first point to be opened on the LoC but after the quake Chakan Da Bagh was chosen instead.

The Poonch-Rawalakote road would be the first to open south of the Pir Pinjal mountain ranges.

First Published: Jun 02, 2006 11:38 IST