Road to peace, prosperity

KD Maini
Poonch-Rawlakote road was conceived by Raja Jagat Dev Singh of Poonch Principality in 1938 AD who had passed orders for the construction of this road. However the Raja died in 1940 and Poonch came directly under the control of Kashmir Darbar. Therefore, the construction of this road was delayed till 1943, when a fair weather road was opened for traffic. From 1943 to 1947 Poonch Rawlakote road was used more for trade than traffic. In those days rice, maize, garlic, chilies and other eatables were transported on horses from Poonch to Rawlakote which was the main market of these items.
During the turmoil of 1947 most part of Poonch principality fell into the hands of rebels and tribesmen who were operating under the supervision of Pakistan army. Under these circumstances Rawlakote town was vacated on 14 November 1947 by Colonel Hiranand Dubey of State forces when he along with his contingents and a caravan of about 9000 thousand refugees had left Rawlakote for Poonch.  The area was occupied by the rebels and Poonch Rawlakote road was closed on 15th November 1947. After that   ceasefire came  into effect on 1st January 1949 which was later on converted into Line of Control in 1972 .Therefore from 15th November 1947 till 7 November 2005 there was no people to people contact between both the parts. The Poonch Rawlakote road remained suspended for about 58 years. It was only after the earthquake of 2005 when relief and rehabilitation center was established at Kanchaman Post on 7th November 2005 for the exchange of relief material and   meetings of divided families on humanitarian grounds. This was a kacha road from Rangar nahall up to Kanchaman post. Later on this route was replaced by Poonch-Rawlakote Road on 20th June 2006 via Tatri Note- Chakkan Da Bagh.
7th November 2005 was the fateful day in the history of Jammu & Kashmir in general and Pir Panchal region in particular when for the first time Poonch Rawlakote road was opened and  public to public contact was established between the habitants of old Poonch principality  living on both side of LOC. Thousands of people from both sides, local administration of Poonch and Rawalakote  along with electronic media thronged zero point near Kanchaman post meeting point located in Tetrinote village to witness this historic event (about 12 kilometer from Poonch town ). The Deputy Commissioner Poonch Mohammad Ramzan Thakur and the Deputy Commissioner Rawlakote Mohammad Farooq Khan alongwith prominent personalities of both the parts of Pir Panchal region across the LOC, media persons and general public thousands in number were present to witness the event. Temporary pavilions were established on both sides at zero line. The Line of Control at this point was made so soft that only a thin cotton rope was dividing the boundaries of Poonch and Rawlakote. The people thousands in numbers  crossed cotton rope and reached on the other side to meet the public. This people to people interaction was started with love, affection and distribution of sweets and presents. There was no limit of enthusiasm among the public. The people forgot the wounds of Indo-Pak conflicts, militancy  and separation of 58 years. A new era of peace and friendship was started. This CBM on the Line of Control  opened the doors to divided families to cross the LOC and meet their relatives on the other side.
The function started with the  hand shake of Deputy Commissioners of Poonch and Rawlakote apart from meetings of general public and media persons.  25 trucks of relief for the victims of earthquake were sent to the other side of the Line of  Control while one truck of relief material was received from the authorities of Rawlakote district as a good will gesture for the victim of earth quake of Poonch district.
On 14th November 2005, another route via Tatapani Balnoi was opened in Mendhar tehsil at Roshni post for the meetings of divided families of Mendhar and Kotli area. 10 trucks of relief material were dispatched by Poonch administration while one truck was received from Kotli administration apart from the meeting of families at Roshni post at zero point. On 21st November 2005, the first group of nine persons crossed LOC from Kanchaman Post to meet their relatives on the other side. Accordingly, the meetings and visits of divided families started after every alternate Monday via Kanchaman Post in Poonch crossing Point and Roshni Post in Tatapani  Balnoi in Mendhar Tehsil. This was the new chapter of cordial relations between India and Pakistan as well as the habitants residing on both the sides of Line of control in Pir Panchal region.   Due to the visits of divided families, the atmosphere on LOC was also turning friendly, the guns were silent and there was no cross firing and militancy.
After the opening of meeting points, great pressure was mounted from the public on both sides for opening of Poonch Rawlakote road on the pattern of Uri Muzaffarabad route so that the divided families could meet their nearest relatives. As per one survey 62 percent families of Poonch and Rajouri districts have their relations on the other side the  of LOC. Keeping in view the pressing public demands and genuine human problem it was decided by India and Pakistan in a foreign secretaries meeting on 3rd May, 2006 for opening of 46 kilometer Poonch-Rawlakote road (10 Kilometer from Poonch town up to zero point on LOC at Chakkan Wala Bagh and 36 kilometer from zero point to Rawlakote via Hajira). Accordingly on 20th June 2006 UPA Chairperson Sonia Gandhi along with Chief    Minister  Jammu and Kashmir Ghulam Nabi Azad and the then Defense Minister ParnabMukerjee inaugurated the road at immigration centre Chakkan Wala Bagh Poonch by showing green flags to three air-conditioned busses and see off first batch of 45 passengers who crossed LOC from this side. The Poonch administration also received the passengers from the other side of the LOC on that day. These guests from the other side of LOC were greeted by Congress Chairperson Mrs Sonia Gandhi who presented the packets of saffron of Kashmir  at each transit.
While addressing a big rally at Khanna Stadium Poonch, Sonia Gandhi assured the public of Poonch – Rajouri area of Pir Panchal region for further confidence building measures so that the people of border areas could live peacefully. The transits of this side were also received on the other side by Sardar Sikander Hayat Khan at zero point, the then Prime Minister of the other part of the Kashmir. This was the historic day and turning point in the life of those living on both sides of LOC. With the interaction and people to people contact in both sides, the 58 years doubts, mistrusts and misunderstandings started  vanishing and cordial atmosphere prevailed day by day.
Presently 4 air-conditioned JKSRTC busses are plying on this road from Poonch up to Zero Point on Line of Control at Chakan Da Bagh( 10.5 Kilometer from Poonch city)  on every Monday. The buses start from Poonch stadium, where the relatives and friends assemble to see off their kith and kin or to welcome the guests arriving from the other side of the Line of control. The visit of these guests in the villages and towns of border area is leaving very friendly impact on the public and great satisfaction is visible on the faces of the border people with the opening of this road. The people of all communities have forgotten the suffocation and harassment of militancy days. Now everyone is in favour of long term peace and cordial relations with the people living on the other side of Line of control. Same sentiments are noticed from the guests who are visiting this side to meet their relatives.
From 2008 onward Poonch Rawlakote road is also used for trade purposes. A new trade relation has been established between the traders of Poonch and Rawlakote .After the opening of    Mughal Road in 2009-10. It is expected that the traders of Kashmir valley would also prefer their business from Poonch Rawlakote road instead of Jhelum Valley road because by this way they will be able to supply fruit and embroidery items   directly to the  six districts of Pakistan Controlled Kashmir namely Rawlakote ,Kahuta ,Sadunti , Bhag, Kotli and Mirpur. The other factor of trade prospect of Poonch Rawlakote road is the similarity of language between the people, since 90 percent people on both the sides speak Pahari and Gojri languages, the traders of the other side would like to have their links with Pahari and Gojri speaking traders of this side. Therefore the opening  of historic Poonch Rawalakote road has  proved very beneficial for the people of both the parts of Kashmir.


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