Sonia Gandhi flags off Poonch-Rawalkote bus service (Kashmir)

Jammu, June 20: The bus service between Poonch and Rawalkote in Pakistan-occupied Kashmir (PoK), another historic measure to facilitate people-to-people contacts across the LoC, was flagged off by UPA chairperson Sonia Gandhi on Tuesday from Chakan-da-Bagh in Poonch district.


This bus service is bound to strengthen the relationship between India and Pakistan, said Gandhi, who was flanked by Defence Minister Pranab Mukherjee, Chief Minister Ghulam Nabi Azad and PDP leader Mufti Mohammed Sayeed.

A batch of 30 passengers left from Poonch to Rawalkote in PoK.

The decision to open the new link -- the first one south of the Pir Panjal Range -- was taken after talks between India and Pakistan in New Delhi on May 3.

For decades people living on both sides have been awaiting the start of the service. The 10-km stretch from Poonch to the LoC was constructed in record time by the civil and Army authorities. The Army has removed the mines laid down here since 1947-48 and customs and immigration posts have been set up.

Brigadier Shergill, Commander of Poonch Garrison under whose command the road was constructed, has said the road was fit for use all round the year since retaining walls had been constructed to prevent landslip from neighbouring hills.

A signboard written in Urdu, put up by the authorities at the last point along the LoC, carries the slogan ``Sarhad zameen baant sakti hein par dil nahin (boundaries can divide land, but not hearts)``.

The line which had divided the two sides had also torn several families in Poonch district. There are members of the divided families who have not met their relatives on the other side for decades.

Seventy three-year-old Imtiaz Ali, a resident of Ajote village in Poonch has not met his brother living in neighbouring Shera village of Kotli in PoK for four decades.

``I hope the bus service will unite brothers like me. The geographical boundaries have not reduced even by an inch the affection which I have for my brother.``

Barkat Khan, another resident of Poonch, is also awaiting the moment he will be united with his cousin in Mirpur, PoK.

The sentiment aired by Prime Minister last year that the trans-LoC link would boost trade between the two parts of the state and also promote better relation between two countries is echoed by the local people here.

Two civilians from Jammu, Zahir Ahmed Bhatti and Shakeela Begum, are also expected to be aboard the bus for Rawalkot to meet their family members across the LoC.

Von: 20.6.2006

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