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Giving Peace A Chance : Road to Rawalakot

Poonch and Rawalakot have historic relations. After the formation of unified J&K state following the Treaty of Amritsar in 1846, a part of the new state comprising Bagh, Rawalakot, Mendhar and Haveli tehsils were continued as the State of Poonch and handed over to Raja Moti Singh as his Jagir. He and his successors, whose work was overseen by a British Resident, consolidated the state including police, court and revenue set-up.

The state enjoyed peace and harmony till hostilities broke out in 1947 at the time of Partition. As a consequence of Partition, the tehsil of Bagh Rawalakot and parts of haveli of Poonch were lost to raiders by September/October 1947. Poonch town stood isolated and besieged. The siege of town continued for one year till a link-up was established on November 21, 1948 and Poonch liberated.

Due to division of the area between Poonch and PoK, a large number of families got divided on both sides of Line of Control with no contact with each other. The opening of Uri-Muzaffarabad road bus service on April 7 last year kindled a glimmer of hope for opening of a new route along the historic Poonch-Rawalakot road. Over fourteen months after the historic launch of trans-LOC bus on the Jhelum Valley road, UPA Chairperson Mrs Sonia Gandhi flagged off another bus aimed at the reunion of people in the erstwhile Poonch jagir straddling the border. It was an occasion to celebrate for either side of the divide. At the launch of Poonch-Rawalakot bus, the second such service between the divided parts of Kashmir, Mrs Gandhi said, “With this, another strong bridge of friendship and peace has been built. The Srinagar-Muzaffarabad bus service had brought down the first wall of mistrust and hatred and with the launch of the present trans-border service, the second such wall has been brought down.”

A total of 87 persons crossed the Chakan de Bagh point on foot after coming on board the two buses on either side. Mrs Gandhi, who was flanked by Defence Minister Pranab Muherjee, J&K Chief Minister, Mr Ghulam Nabi Azad and his predecessor, Mr Mufti Sayeed, flagged off the Poonch version of Karavan-e-Aman (Peace Caravan) - an all-white bus - after distributing rose and souvenirs to the passengers and clicking pictures with them.

For the residents of Poonch, the road to Rawalakot is not just a route. It is the way back to wholeness. Today, the distance of 47 kilometres between Poonch and Rawalakot is divided into 10 kilometres within Indian territory and 37 kilometres within Pakistan Occupied Kashmir.

A multi-tier security ring was in place and the forest belt around Chakan-deBagh was being guarded by Army, police and security personnel. Poonch wore a festive look as the restoration of this pre-Partition road was one of their dreams, given the magnitude of the divided families in the twin districts of Rajouri and Poonch. PoK Prime Minister, Mr Sikandar Hayat Khan had personally boarded the bus to Tetrinot, the last point on the LoC on the other side, to see passengers off and welcome thirty coming from J&K. He is amongst thousands of individuals spearated from their kith and kin by the LoC.

At a place just two kilometres away from the Zero Point, which was once known as a minefield and which nobody dared to enter even after the cease-fire, a state-of-the-art building housing the Immigration and Customs Office has been constructed in a record time of about fortyfive days. A three-km stretch on this road was de-mined and aligned within a record period of four months by Army. Constructed through the densely mined area of Chakan-deBagh, the three-kilometre new road length and Immigration and Custom Complex was set up in a record thirty days time with zero casualty during the demining period. “Demining of the area was the biggest challenge before the Army. The entire area was mined and it was very tough job to demine the road length of three kms and the Immigration Complex. Our troops completed it in four months including the 10 km Poonch-LoC road”, Lt Gen Tej Saproo, GOC 16 Corps, said.

From the new point, Pakistan's town Hajra is just 15 kilometres while Rawalakot is 43 kilometres. Similarly, PoK's Kotli town is located at a distance of 55 kilometres, Muzaffarabad at a distance of 153 kilometres and Pakistan's capital city, Islamabad, is located just 154 kilometres away. “Poonch ki yeh hari ghati / Poorey watan mein khushboo lati” (The Green Valey of Poonch fills the entire country with fragrance). “Indo - Pak Unity and Friendship” and many more such sign-boards displayed on either side of the road greeted the people when it opend for the general public on June 20.

 

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