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Srinagar-Muzaffarabad bus will boost trade

Ehtasham Khan in New Delhi | October 23, 2003 21:37 IST

If External Affairs Minister Yashwant Sinha's proposal for a bus service between Srinagar and Muzaffarabad comes true, it will give new lease of life to the historic road that connects the two cities.

Sixteenth century Mughal emperor Akbar once marched into Kashmir through this route. And India's first Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru was once arrested on this road, which is said to connect Kashmir with the rest of the world.

The Srinagar-Muzaffarabad highway, known in the valley as the Uri road, was closed in 1947 after the formation of Pakistan.

Prior to partition, this nearly 250 km highway was the only road that connected the people of Kashmir -- now divided as the Indian state of Jammu and Kashmir and Pakistan Occupied Kashmir.

Tahir Mohiuddin, editor of Srinagar-based Urdu weekly Chattan told rediff.com: "This is the main route that connects the valley with the rest of the world."

"It would not only help families on both sides to unite but also help boost the economy of the state," he said.

The proposal for such a service was first floated in July 2001 during the Agra summit between Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee and Pakistan President Perwez Musharraf.

The date and modalities of the service, however, has not been announced yet. India officials said it depends on the 'reaction of Pakistan'.

The road starts from Srinagar and reaches Muzaffarabad, capital of PoK, passing through Baramulla, Uri in India and Kohla, Kotli in Pakistan. The road is connected to Rawalpindi.

Citing the historic importance of the route, Mohiuddin said Nehru was once arrested on this road when he was coming to express his solidarity with Shiekh Mohammad Abdullah.

The road was also the main trade link between Kashmir and the rest of the world linking the valley with Afghanistan and China.

The revival of this road link would rejuvenate trade and commerce in the region. The road will allow many Kashmiri families, spread on both sides, to visit each other frequently.

Currently a person living in Srinagar has to travel all the way to Delhi to get the ticket of the Delhi-Lahore bus service. This is the only means of transportation between the two countries as of now. New Delhi had snapped all travel links with Islamabad after the attack on Parliament in December 13, 2001.

From Delhi, one has to go to Lahore, change the bus and go to Rawalpindi and then finally Muzaffarabad. The proposed bus service would drastically reduce the distance.

Experts said the road is also safer than the currently used Srinagar-Jammu highway, which regularly faces landslides in winter months. On several occasions, it is closed for as long as a week crippling the transportation.

Economy of the militancy-hit state would be another beneficiary. Experts said fruits are one of the major sources of income for the people of Kashmir. Fruits are transported from the valley to the markets in Chennai, Bangalore and Delhi. The cost of transportation is high and the products are also damaged due to long and difficult route.

"If the government takes a further step and allows people to send their fruits to Muzaffarabad through this route then it will open several new avenues," Mohiuddin said. "It will not only boost the economy of the valley but also help build better relations."

There is a diplomatic benefit too. Chief Minister Mufti Mohammad Sayeed is of the opinion that once the people of PoK start coming to India they would see that people in the Indian side of Kashmir are in better condition. This will help them bring closer to India.

Mohiuddin agrees. "There is a lot of propaganda in PoK that Kashmiris in India are not allowed to pray and are very poor. Once they come here and see, it will be an eye opener for them."

Delhi-based lawyer Tanweer Ahmed Mir said it was a welcome step, but wanted it to be supplemented by other things like granting of passport and visa and making travel easier.

"I have been hearing about this road since my childhood. But it is closed since independence. It is good that they are opening it and I hope it will bring people closer," Mir said.

"If there is a comprehensive policy then it could really make a difference. Small steps help in taking bigger decisions," he said.

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