Kashmiris Watching Road To Peace
15 February 2004
New Delhi: The defunct road linking Srinagar with Muzaffarabad across the Line of Control (LoC) is being speedily spruced up this side of the divide, and important Kashmiri leaders, smelling peace in the air , said they would meet on Monday to follow the peace talks in Islamabad between India and Pakistan. Maulvi Umar Farooq, Kashmir's spiritual leader, told Dawn from Srinagar that a delegation of the All Parties Hurriyat Conference was also quite certain of being allowed to visit Pakistan next month to press on with their part of the peace process. Mr Farooq said the APHC's faction headed by Maulvi Abbas Ansari would hold a formal meeting to review the progress in Islamabad on Monday and to prepare for their own meeting with Indian officials next month ahead of the Pakistan tour. 'We had welcomed the talks between India and Pakistan when they were first proposed,' he said. 'So there is tremendous enthusiasm among the Kashmiris and they have a lot of hope from both sides.' An equally important agenda for the APHC to review on Monday would be the move to open up the Srinagar-Muzaffarabad link road. Pakistani officials said technical level talks were proposed to be held about the Kashmir link road, in Islamabad on March 29-30. On March 9 and 10, technical representatives of the two countries would meet in Islamabad to consider the proposal to revive the rail and road link on the Rajasthan-Sindh sector. It was not clear if the issues would become part of the composite dialogue between the two sides. Reports from the border town of Uri said repair work on the Srinagar-Muzaffarabad highway was in full swing even as India- Pakistan officials begin talks on Monday. Jammu and Kashmir Chief Minister Mufti Mohammad Sayeed visited the site where a customs office is to come up along with other facilities for commuters, closed since 1948. 'I feel that it will take time to construct the road. We are here to make preparations. The response from Pakistan too looks good,' Mr Sayeed was quoted as saying. Maulvi Farooq cautioned that while there was great enthusiasm among the Kashmiris over the proposal to revive the road link across the LoC, he said it should be clear that the region's people were not expecting to be asked to use passports issued either by India or Pakistan. 'We want to make it clear that there should be no effort to convey the impression that the move to open the road link means the acceptance of the division of Kashmir,' he said. Reports say the groundwork of constructing bridges and widening the highway is slated to be ready by the time the two countries take any decision on the re-opening of the road. Indian Minister of State for Defence Chaman Lal Gupta, who inaugurated Chandanwari bridge, was optimistic. 'We have made this offer and it is up to Pakistan. We want the peace talks to be fruitful and this road to open soon,' Mr Gupta was quoted as saying. The people of Uri town have the maximum stake on the success of the talks. It will not just boost their business, but also bring families across the border much closer.