Andrew Maykuth Online
The Philadelphia Inquirer
April 26, 2004

Cease-fire holds at dividing line
Report from the Pakistani side of Kashmir

Gen. Iftikhar Ali Khan

CHAKOTHI, Pakistan -- Pakistan and India routinely shelled each other across the border here until the nuclear-armed neighbors recently declared a cease-fire along the boundary where they have been dug in for more than half a century.

Six months later, the unmarked 475-mile Line of Control that divides the Himalayan region of Kashmir remains remarkably peaceful. Life improved immensely in such frontier communities as Chakothi, giving residents time to rebuild the local school, destroyed last fall by Indian artillery.

"The cease-fire has given a ray of hope to people," said Brig. Gen. Iftikhar Ali Khan, commander of the Pakistani brigade that guards this section of the border.

Yet only the most optimistic believe the cease-fire will be made permanent when India and Pakistan sit down next month to explore a resolution to a dispute that has cleaved this region since 1947, when the Britain partitioned its former Indian colony along religious lines, granting independence to India and Pakistan. Muslim Pakistan, occupying the northern third of mostly Muslim Kashmir, has fought two wars over Kashmir with Hindu India.

"We are hopeful that maybe this negotiation will result in a better life for Kashmiris," said Munir Ahmad, 24, school principal in a camp populated by refugees displaced by the uprising that has torn apart Indian-occupied Kashmir since 1989. "We hope for an end of the killing."

At some border posts, the cease-fire has provided an opportunity for long-separated relatives to get close enough that they can shout greetings to each other across the divide.

But at the Chakothi post, only soldiers face each other across the rugged boundary that crosses the Jhelum River, swollen by the spring thaw as it races past terraced wheat fields and orchards.

Khan, at a fortified viewing platform, gestured at enemy soldiers peering back through binoculars from outposts less than 200 yards away. Electronic sensors are mounted on the Indian side to detect anyone brave enough to try to sneak through the minefields.

"It's not that easy for anyone to get across without detection," he said. He denied Indian accusations that Pakistan's army provided weapons and logistical support to the Kashmiri militants. "This struggle is totally indigenous, being fueled by Indian brutality," he said.

In a concrete bunker a mile from the border, Khan presented a slide-show briefing on the history of the conflict. The two nations nearly went to war again in early 2002, when they mobilized more than a million soldiers along the Line of Control after Kashmiri militants attacked India's parliament.

"The situation over here became so volatile that even the slightest move might have caused catastrophic consequences," he said, as a slide projected on the wall behind him depicted a vibrant red mushroom cloud. home page   
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