Reunion Across LoC

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A group of Kashmiri ladies were permitted to take the historic Jehlum Valley Road (JVR) to attende an intra-Kashmir conference at Muzaffarabad that an NGO organized. Qurattulain was part of the delegation. In this piece, she explains how her trip turned historic for her.

On November 5, 2012, I was introducing myself to the delegates of an intra-Kashmir conference in Muzaffarabad, least knowing that my cousin, Riffat Khan, whom I had never met was among the audience. After the introduction session was over and we started interacting with each other that one of the hosts, Dr Naseema Jogzai, introduced me to her sister, Zareen. We exchanged pleasantries and suddenly she pointed towards a smart graceful lady standing nearby.

“DO YOU KNOW HER?” SHE ASKED.

Before I could say anything, the lady who had a sweet and mischievous smile on her lips hugged me tightly and sobbed: “Qurrat, I am Riffat.”

I couldn’t believe it. How can Rifat be here this time? I have her address and telephone number and I am supposed to call her. It was beyond my imagination to expect her at this gathering. Soon, I realized that she wanted to surprise me and make our meeting an event. She had not disclosed that she was a part of delegation from Azad Jammu & Kashmir (AJK). It was a scene straight out of a movie. It added an emotional angle to my Muzzafarabad trip.

Four of the six sons of my grandfather, Moulvi Muhammad Abdullah Vakeel, had been exiled to Pakistan in1947 for political reason by the so-called popular government of our state. As per the historical records, my two uncles Moulvi Abdul Raheem and Moulvi Bashir and several other relatives were founders of freedom struggle of Kashmir.

I was in no way prepared for the explosion of accumulated emotion on being introduced to Riffat Khan, my separated first cousin, who was a member of host AJK delegation. We were so excited, happy and absolutely oblivious of the rest of the women in conference hall. Our excitement, emotional outburst and happiness was noticed by all and they too joined us to celebrate this ‘reunion’ that came as a huge surprise. The word spread and we were approached by media. Most of them had recorded our reunion on camera and it became a major event.

This was my first meeting with my cousin ever since she migrated to Pakistan. Then, I was not born. Till November 5, 2012, we were strangers for each other. My sisters have been to Pakistan and they know her. But the two of us had never met. It was a Godsend opportunity and I thank almighty for this great favor. Another surprise was for Dr Iffat Gul from University of Kashmir. During a casual conversation with Sajida Bihar, it was a discovered that their mothers were first cousins.

This conference was different in the sense that participants took the trans-LoC route. Compared to Wagha, it is quite closer. Taking Wagha would mean taking a few days to reach Muzaffarabad. We reached near the 220-ft Kaman Bridge which demarcates the LoC. We were stopped by security guards as per the standard operations procedure (SOP). The other side was supposed to unlock the gate first. It was an interesting experience.

When I saw the bridge that we were supposed to cross, the first thing that struck me was the cruel unnaturalness of this territorial divide between the people who have so much in common and who share each others’ aspirations.

As the security systems took its time, we kept standing, waving and acknowledging the presence of women on the other side, our hosts. As we finally crossed the bridge, we were hugged, garlanded and flower petals showered with matchless love and warmth. It was indeed an emotional reunion. It was a princely reception and every one of us felt overwhelmed. It was drizzling and the atmosphere was quite pleasant. We unanimously took drizzling as a good omen, an endorsement by nature of our initiative for peace.

The trip was not an unmixed blessing, however. Moments of utter frustration at times made me wonder if all the trouble we had to go through was really worth it. Unduly harsh pre-travel procedural checks are more a deterrent than attraction for undertaking the trip.

The formal session discussed issues caused by the ongoing conflict and the participants wanted early resolution. There were various working group that identified issues and finally a consensus statement was issued that almost all the newspapers carried. —

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