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'Through our hearts': Kashmir village 75 years after partition

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Reuters

Reuters

Fayaz Bukhari and Gibran Naiyyar pessimum

TEETWAL — The thundering Himalayan River and one of the world's most militarized borders straddles the mountain range between India and India. separates the Khokar family of Kashmir. Pakistan – Greatest rival to Britain after gaining independence 75 years ago.

Abdul Rashid Khokhar lives in his Teetwal village on the Indian side.

Across the rapids of the Neelum River, also known as the Kishanganga, his nephews Javed Iqbal Kokar and Munir Hussein Kokar run a small shop in the hamlet of Cirehana, Pakistan. there is

Above them rose tall green mountains on either side, from which the armed forces of their nuclear-armed neighbors fired mortars, shells, and small arms for decades. It has been raining intermittently for a long time.

Since early 2021, the Line of Control (LOC), a 740 km (460 mi) de facto border that divides Kashmir into two he said, will be closed after the ceasefire agreement between India was renewed. It's almost quiet. and Pakistan.

After years of bombing and destruction in this part of Kashmir, farmers have returned to abandoned fields and orchards, markets have boomed, small businesses have expanded, and schools have been operating normally. Residents of both sides said they had returned to their lives.

But broken diplomatic ties between India and Pakistan, which have fought two of his three wars over Kashmir, continue to cast a shadow over the region.

India and Pakistan have no active trade ties, and diplomatic missions in both countries downgraded. There are very limited visas that can be visited from either side.

Kashmir's postcard-perfect valleys and mountains are split between Pakistani and Indian sectors, with China controlling parts of the northern region.

The narrow rope bridge connecting Teethwar and Cirehana is blocked on both sides with barbed wire and has not been allowed to be crossed since 2018. It straddles the LOC.

"The line runs through our hearts," said Kokar, his 73-year-old village council head of Teethwal, referring to the LOC.

"I can see my relatives over there, but not being able to meet and talk to them is very traumatic."

August 14 And at midnight on the 15th, the Kohars are among the millions of families that have been torn apart after colonial India was split into the independent states of Hindu-majority India and Muslim-majority Pakistan. 1947.

More than a million dead

Britain's hasty division of the subcontinent has sparked mass migration, marred by bloodshed and violence. about their religion.

Many independent estimates put more than one million people dead in religious riots.

Massacres struck Teethwar during the partition, but more destruction followed during the 1971 Indo-Pakistani War, which eventually led to the establishment of the LOC, he said. said.

By the 1990s, parts of the predominantly Hindu state of Jammu and Kashmir, the only Muslim-majority state in the country, were embroiled in full-blown riots. , New Delhi accused Pakistan. Encourage.

Islamabad denied the allegations, saying it was merely providing diplomatic and moral support to Kashmiris seeking self-determination.

Pakistan has also accused India of human rights abuses in areas controlled by Kashmir, which New Delhi has rejected.

In 2019, Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi reorganized Jammu and Kashmir into his two federally administered provinces, angering Pakistan and renewing tensions.

On the Pakistani side of the Neelum River, Kokar's nephew Javed Iqbal Kokar remembers when he could not switch on the darkest lights in his home in Cirehana. said there is. be bombarded.

The constant artillery and mortar fire of the time forced the family to move the elders and most of the children away from the border and his 40 km from the relatively safe city of Muzaffarabad. I was forced to move to a remote location. (25 miles) away in Pakistan, he said.

"They're still there because you never know what's going to happen and it's hard to get them out," said the 55-year-old woman.

'IT'S BEEN 75 YEARS'

On a warm afternoon this week, his brother Mounir his Hussein his Kokar stands outside a small shop, Indians across the LOC Overlooking the settlement, I handed out bright cones. Green and white ice cream in the colors of the Pakistani flag.

For years, business activity in the area had been almost completely stagnant, and constant clashes had led to a slight reduction in traffic on the roads along the Neelam River, he said. said.

With tourists returning since the ceasefire in 2021, the Khokhar brothers have expanded their business and launched two new stores.

"Ice cream is fine," said the 32-year-old, and offered him a cone.

There is no cell phone service in Chilehana, and the Kokar brothers said they had not spoken to relatives across the border in years. His brother said the last time he visited the Indian side was in 2012.

"Strange," he said.

There are no tourists in Teetowar, India, but residents of the once-bustling town and surrounding settlements say they are also benefiting from the cessation of hostilities.

In Dildar, a village adjacent to Teetwal, local principal Aftab Ahmad Khawaja said he forced 550 of his students into a secure room during cross-border shootings.

"After the shelling, only 25 percent of the students were in school," he said, Mr Khawaja, 33.

But many still count the casualties of the fighting that engulfed the region.

On the night of September 19, 2020, Nasulena in her Shaht village, Gunde, India, was the sole breadwinner of her family of four when a shell landed in the courtyard of her Ms. Begum home. killed her husband.

"In hostilities and shelling, I was robbed of everything," said Begum, 35, who now supports two daughters and her one son. I was.

Along Neelam, Pakistan, Umar Mughal hopes peace will last. One of his reasons is that it might give him the opportunity to expand a small restaurant with a sweeping view of the Indian side.

"It's been 75 years," said the 26-year-old Mughal.

"Whatever it is, we need some kind of long-term solution for Kashmir. Wait another 75 years."

(Fayaz Bukhari of Teetwal and Chilehana Reporting by Gibran Naiyyar Peshimam; additional reporting by Abu Arqam Naqash of Chilehana; writing by Devjyot Ghoshal; editing by Raju Gopalakrishnan)