My visit to LOC in Bhimber
Dr Shabir Choudhry 10 Nov 10
District Bhimber is strategically important town situated near border of Pakistan and LOC. It has historic value, yet it is often neglected in political matters. Moghal Kings and other royal families used this route to Srinagar for holiday. Parts of District Bhimber, especially northern parts are mountainous, but its southern parts are plain. I come from a village called Nakker Shamali near Panjeri, which is about 3 miles from the border of Pakistan.
During Kashmir National Party study tour I decided to visit the border areas of District Bhimber. We have actively supported opening of LOC routes linking the divided State of Jammu and Kashmir that people can interact and trade with each other, but no one has paid any attention to the routes which link Bhimber with Akhnoor and Noshera.
In one International Kashmir Conference held in Europe some years ago, I raised this issue, but I was told by some Kashmiri leaders that there was no such route, even though I was sure of this route. So I decided to visit both routes personally and see how my motherland is divided and militarily controlled by our neighbours.
From Bhimber to Barnallah and Koat Jaimel is a plain area with a metalled road and population on both sides. Barnallah is a sub district of District Bhimber and not far from the LOC. The present LOC is different to the Cease Fire Line which existed until the Shimal Agreement on 1972. On the way to Koat Jaimel, which comes after Barnallah, we saw old Cease Fire Line, no mans land, first line of defence of Pakistan ( and Azad Kashmir Forces) and the second defence line.
Pakistan, in 1965 war, advanced very rapidly from this sector and crossed Tavi River and beyond. It was widely believed that important town of Akhnoor would fall soon, but for some unknown reason Pakistani army decided to change the Commander of this sector who was winning the war. The Commander in charge was Lt General Akhtar Hussain Malik, who happened to be from a Qadiyani sect.
It is believed that the Pakistani army and the government of that time didn’t want the credit of this victory (of capturing Akhnoor and possibly Jammu) going to a Qadiyani General; so it was decided that he should be replaced by Lt General Yayah Khan – a Pathan General and a friend of President Ayub Khan.
Apart from some interest in matters related to army, Yayah Khan had many other colourful interests – known womaniser and heavy drinker. With this change of command the advance was halted that the new commander with new ideas and new vigour could assert himself, but due to his other ‘important activities’ he was only 24 late to takeover charge from Lt General Akhtar Hussain Malik. This was more than enough time for Indian army to regroup and launch a counter attack.
Pakistani military command and the government were successful in ensuring that a Qadiyani General did not get the credit for the victory. After this change of command, the Pakistani army did not move forward, if anything, they were pushed back, but still they were on the other side of River Tavi. After the Tashkant Agreement, forces of both countries moved back to their old positions.
I was accompanied by a relative who served in the Pakistan army as an officer on this sector. He explained to me that in the war of 1971, once again Pakistan army advanced but they could not take over River Tavi, but still they invaded many miles and that has become now LOC – defacto new border. I got out of the car and walked on the land which until December 1971 was called Indian Occupied Kashmir and people living there were called ‘oppressed Kashmiris’. The land and the people look exactly same. On one side of the divide people were ruled by India and they had Indian money with a photo of Gandhi; on the other side they were ruled by Pakistan and they had money with a photo Mohammed Ali Jinnah.
And if they wanted to meet their relatives and friends they have to travel to either New Delhi or Islamabad and get a visa. If they are lucky with the visa then they have to travel from Lahore to Delhi and then all the way to Jammu, Akhnoor and Chamb, which is just half a mile away from the LOC. Is this not a human rights issue?
From Koat Jaimel we drove to Iftikharabad, the last village on this side of the LOC. North of Iftikharabad Chowk is manned by army men with guns in their hands, so we drove towards South as if we were going to District Gujrat (in Pakistan) which is not far from there. We saw some army jeeps moving in both directions. They gave us a dirty look, as if they were wondering what these civilians were doing here. Local civilians were known to them. I also gave them a dirty look, trying to imply that I was also important person.
When I realised that there were no cars around, I parked my car behind some bushes and walked to what could be called first line of Pakistani defence. Northern part of this defence line is always heavily manned by army, but Southern side is not manned and is only used during war or warlike situation.
We saw concrete bunkers which were empty, but could be used to fit guns to halt the Indian advance and hit tanks. There was also separate space to store ammunition. Each bunker had instruction written on metal sign boards, as to what kind of guns and weapons should be used. After inspecting some bunkers I could see with naked eyes the village of Chamb on the other side of LOC. I checked all this on google map once I was back in London.
I wanted to have a better view of the LOC and that could only be done from the North side of the LOC, but it was manned by men in uniform and with guns in their hands. I drove my car towards the barrier with confidence, hoping that he might lift the barrier. Instead he looked at me angrily and pointed with his gun to stop. He was angry, how could a ‘bloody civilian’ dare to behave like that. Sensing trouble my relative asked me to stop and rushed out of the car to meet the men in uniform.
My relative explained to him who he was, and that he wanted to show his relative (me) this area and LOC. The man in uniform still looked angry. He was still staring at me. After a few minutes of conversation my relative came back. He was bluntly told that no civilian could beyond this point, and if he wanted a special permission he had to speak to a Commander in Jhelum, generally a Major General. He probably told my relative that retired officers are of no significance.
Anyway we travelled back to Bhimber and proceeded to Samahni, which is about 45 minutes drive from Bhimber. It is on the other side of the mountains and is beautiful place with no facilities for the local people or tourists. I was told this area had quite few attractions for tourists, but due to lack of facilities no one comes this way.
Unlike the Chamb sector, this sector is mountainous, and Indian army bunkers were clearly visible on hill tops. From that place I could not see any villages on the Indian side of the LOC, but on the Pakistani side of the LOC civilians have no choice but live there surrounded by the army.
Samahni is also famous because of Ilyas Kashmiri. A militant commander who fought against the Indian army and was an important commander of ISI sponsored militancy. Later on he changed side and became Operations Commander of Al Qaeeda and fought against Pakistani forces including the ISI.
When I travel, I always try to remain in wuzoo – ablution. I went to a local shop and asked for a massella – a praying mat that I could offer late afternoon prayer. After the prayer, I asked the shop keeper about the route to Noshera. I was told that people used to travel on this route to Noshera, but because of the LOC this rout is not used. I asked him if he was happy there; and if he had any problems from the Pakistan army.
He looked anxious and perplexed, as he did not expect this kind of question. After looking around he said: ‘We have no problems here. We have problems when both armies fight with each other, and the Indian army target us civilians and our houses’. His words did not match his facial expressions and tone; and his body language and tone gave very powerful message.
Anyway the point I want to make is that both these routes – Bhimber to Akhnoor and Samahni to Noshera should be opened without any delay. These routes could be opened without too much effort if there is a political will. Apart from the social benefits, there is huge market of District Bhimber, District Mirpur, in Azad Kashmir and Kotla, Gujrat, Kharian, Lala Musa, Dina and Jhelum in Pakistan. This gesture will be an important Confidence Building Measure and will help to create appropriate environment to resolve the Kashmir dispute.
Writer is Head Diplomatic Committee of Kashmir National Party, political analyst and author of many books and booklets. Also he is Director Institute of Kashmir Affairs.Email:email@example.com
View my blog and web: www.drshabirchoudhry.blogspot.com www.k4kashmir.com