Monday, 9 June 2008

The Travails of Cross-LOC Movement

Written on Tuesday 03/06/08
Rawalpindi, Punjab - Pakistan
Kotli AJK
Kokoi: my home Dhok (vicinity in village Gurutta) tehsil: Sehnsa district: Kotli AJK

I decide that I'm going to burn the midnight oil tonight. I'm behind in my daily blog as some of you would have noticed. More importantly, I'm one average man striving to make an impact on a multitude of objectives. I get scant help from anywhere and it's not just down to lack of affordability. People here are frightened of involving themselves in anything that may affect the status quo. They've resigned themselves to stifling their creativity and emotions.

It's not until 4:30 in the morning that I finally decide to quit the net cafe, with about 95% of what I wanted to do on the net still outstanding. It's raining 'cats and dogs' as I make my way to 'Pir Wadai' (the public transport station where I'll catch my wagon to Kotli, my home district in Pakistani-administered Kashmir).

Each time I visit Kashmir, I never fail to be mesmerised by it's lush greenery, open spaces and intoxicating air. The fact that this rapidly degrading environmental haven has acute political disabilities is never lost on me, as I've been constantly reminded of this sad, emaciating fact every day for the past 1,141 days.

I'm at the Assistant Commissioner's (AC) office by 9:00 am (nice and early). There are plenty of querying looks from the sea of lawyers, legal assistants, clerks, local government officials and members of the public, as I focus my camera over them. At one point, a burly policeman approaches me and in a tone incommensurate to his size, politely asks about my origin and why I'm here before ushering me to the correct quarters.

The AC's assistant is willing to give all the necessary information that I seek - off the record - and agrees to my suggestion that I should obtain an interview from the AC, which I duly do.

Let's try and extract the wheat from the chaff of Cross LOC movement:

- From October 1947 to April 2005, the Ceasefire Line (renamed Line of Control in 1972) dividing Kashmir between India and Pakistan prevented 'legal' movement of people across the divide.

- As part of the "Peace Process" inititiated between India and Pakistan in January 2004, it was mutually decided to start a bus service between the two capitals viz. Muzzafarabad (Pakistani-administered Kashmir - PAK) and Srinagar (Indian-administered Kashmir - IAK) in April 2005.

- The devastating earthquake in October 2005, hurried both countries into opening up 4 other crossing points along the LOC.

- Policy-making remains with Islamabad and New Delhi, though they both maintain that implementation rests solely with the administrations in Muzzafarabad and Srinagar i.e. that the Indians and Pakistanis do not interfere in the implementation process.

The Procedure:

1) Eight attested photos and application forms to be submitted to your district administrative office.

2) The local office of 'the' Intelligence Agency will make various checks including, visiting your home or asking you to come to a local office.

3) The forms return to district administration office.

4) They are then sent to the capital administrative office in Muzaffarabad.

5) They in turn send the forms over the LOC to the other capital administrative office viz. from Muzzafarabad to Srinagar.

6) The forms are then passed to the district administrative office of where your relatives are.

7) Then they are passed on to 'the' Intelligence Agency who do their 'checks'.

8) The forms are then returned to the district administrative office (where your relatives reside).

9) They return the form/s to the capital administrative office (Srinagar).

10) They in turn pass them back across the LOC to your capital administrative office (Muzaffarabad).

11) Who return the accepted forms to your district office, who finally give you the 'green signal'.

n.b. This whole process is repeated each time you apply!

- Cross-LOC movement has been sporadic, frequently interrupted and only 2 crossing points have a regular fortnightly service, namely Muzaffarabad-Srinagar and Poonch-Rawalakot.

- The application process is so tedious and inconsistent that some people have had their applications processed within a month while others have waited for two and a half years, indeed some are still waiting. Meanwhile, some people have even travelled 2 or 3 times since April 2005.

- The Intelligence agencies on both sides dominate the process and are the major reason for delay. This negates the notion that Islamabad and New Delhi do not interfere in the implementation process.

- The rest of the delay can be attributed to local government administrations, who process applications in a part-time capacity. I understand that there are no dedicated staff on either side and that their budgets are limited, with one official lamenting on the inability to even purchase essential stationary!

- Movement is restricted to those who have blood relatives and even then government servants are ineligible to apply. You are also restricted from what you can take across (cited in an earlier blog).

- Most movement has been of refugees from either side, old people longing to meet their loved ones and are mainly Muslims. Unfortunately, the Hindus and Sikhs who live on the Indian side, justifiably have reservations about re-visiting their ancestral homes from where they were forcibly evicted in 1947 (More about this in future blogs).

- There is apparently no public record on the amount of cross-LOC movement, though this district office (Kotli) asserts that hundreds of thousands of people want to cross.

To my utter horror yet little surprise, I learn that our Cross-LOC application made on the 25th of March viz. for my maternal grandparents and I, is still sitting with the local office of the ISI!

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