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'A great historical moment for the people of Kashmir'

Last updated on: April 08, 2005 18:06 IST
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People's Democratic Party chief and Jammu and Kashmir Chief Minister Mufti Mohammad Sayeed's daughter Mehbooba Mufti travelled with the 21 passengers [it later became 19, after an elderly couple discontinued the journey] on the two inaugural Srinagar-Muzaffarabad buses, which were flagged off by Prime Minister Manmohan Singh from the Sher-e-kashmir stadium on April 7.

She went with them till the Kaman post on the Line of Control before returning to Srinagar.

She recounts the experience, and narrates her interaction with the passengers worried about their safety:  

When terrorists attacked the Tourist Reception Centre in the heart of Srinagar on April 6, on the eve of the inaugural run of the bus to Muzaffarabad in Pakistan-occupied Kashmir, many felt the launch would be postponed or even called off.

The political reactions from Pakistan were not very encouraging and they were beginning to have second thoughts about the service.

One of their spokesmen said it was too early to say anything about the fate of the bus.

But I compliment Prime Minister Manmohan Singh for leading the way and asserting that the bus would be on its way to Muzaffarabad as planned and India would not be cowed down by such terrorist threats and let them disrupt the peace process between the two nations.

By the grace of Allah, all passengers who had been housed in the TRC were safe.

When I went there to meet them in the evening of April 6, many had second thoughts about the journey. They were wondering if they could ever make it.

The women passengers were particularly disheartened. They talked to me about their fears. I assured them if they were feeling so bad than I would go with them. At that point of time I did not tell anyone except the passengers that I would actually be boarding the bus and travelling with them up to the Line of Control.

By the time Dr Singh and Congress president Sonia Gandhi arrived, along with External Affairs Minister Natwar Singh and Gulam Nabi Azad, on April 7 for flagging off the bus, things had been brought under control.

Omar Abdullah, despite being in opposition, was present at the Sher-e-Kashmir stadium to show his solidarity with the people of Kashmir.

It was an emotional moment for the people of Kashmir when the PM flagged off the bus along with Gandhi.

I boarded the bus and kept talking to passengers and kept their morale high. The passengers feared they might be attacked any time, but we left everything to Allah.

The people of Kashmir had turned up in large numbers all along the route to cheer the passengers. When we reached the Kaman post and the passengers were about to cross over to the Pakistani side, the women passengers said I should go with them to the other side.

The officers manning the border did not object and hence I was able to go to PoK by crossing the Aman Setu to see our people off.

I told the officers, 'Now the lives of our people are in your hand'. Many people from the crowd rushed across and some of them kissed my hands and went back. It was a scene that cannot be described in words.

People who had been separated for more then 50 years were finally united.

The reception on the Indian side to the Pakistani visitors was simply breathtaking. Every few kilometers, locals would stop their bus and provided them tea and snacks.

My father, [Jammu and Kashmir Chief Minister] Mufti Mohammad Sayeed, sent boats full of flowers to Hazratbal Dargah to express his gratitude.

I met a retired judge from Pakistan who had not seen his brother for 50 years or so. He broke down when he touched the Indian soil - the valley. Some passengers kissed the soil before laying their feet on the ground.

"You will never understand their emotions and why they are crying," my father told me. He presented flowers to each of the passenger from across the border and personally escorted them to the bus.

This was a great historical moment for the people of Kashmir and I am happy it happened when my father was at the helm of affairs [in J&K].

I could not attend the cultural functions because I got home late at night from Salamabad. When I was driving back I could see the excitement amongst the people of Kashmir. They were sitting by the roadside and discussing the developments of the day. A day that could change the history of Kashmir and, insha Allah, the lives of Kashmiris who have been living through troubled times and are sick and tired of seeing blood being spilled on to the roads and mud.

As told to Onkar Singh

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