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Back to Kashmir in Hope and Fear

Kashmiri youths have managed to cross difficult terrain to receive weapons training in Pakistan. Credit: Athar Parvaiz/IPS.

SRINAGAR, India, Jul 2 2012 (IPS) - After spending more than 15 years in Pakistan Administered Kashmir, Rafiq Mir (name changed) is keen to come back to his home in the part of Kashmir administered by India.

When he had crossed the Line of Control (LoC) – the de-facto border dividing the parts of Kashmir under India and Pakistan – Mir had thought his life and the lives of his fellow Kashmiris would change for the better.

That was in 1993, when he volunteered his services for an armed rebellion against India to ‘liberate’ Kashmir from its rule. He sneaked across the LoC to receive arms training in Pakistan Administered Kashmir.

Despite the border security forces deployed by India, large numbers of Kashmiri youths managed to infiltrate into the other side to get training and weapons. Many were killed after coming under fire from Indian troops while crossing the LoC.

Citing the division of the sub-continent in 1947 on religious lines after independence from Britain, Pakistan lays claim to the entire Muslim-dominated Kashmir, while India says the Kashmiri ruler then, Maharaja Hari Singh, had acceded to India.

Kashmir has since then been an apple of discord between India and Pakistan. The two South Asian nuclear neighbours have fought three full-scale wars for gaining full control of its territory.

A two-decade armed uprising against India, which Mir joined in 1993, has ebbed in intensity in  recent years. Most of the militants stuck on the Pakistani side now want to return home. In 2010, the pro-India Kashmir government announced a rehabilitation policy for such Kashmiri militants.

Kashmir’s chief minister Omar Abdullah said in a recent statement that his government had received 1,034 applications from former militants now on the Pakistani side for their return under the rehabilitation policy. According to figures from the government, more than 3,000 Kashmiris who had gone for weapons training, are stranded across the LoC.

More than a hundred of these militants have returned to their homeland since early this year. Around 500 militants have returned to valley in the past five years. Following the announcement of the rehabilitation policy, more militants now feel encouraged to come back to their native land, but a lot of questions still haunt them.

“The government says its security agencies would not harass us, but I am still not sure,” Mir said from the Pakistani Kashmir side during a Skype chat with IPS facilitated by one of his neighbours.

“The security agencies can do anything,” Mir told IPS. “I strongly want to come back. Living the life here is getting too difficult. Things are too costly here. If the government gives us support and protection, it will be so good to start a fresh life back home.” While in Pakistani Kashmir, Mir married a Pakistani woman and has two children.

Shabir Ahmad of Shopian, who had gone to Pakistan for weapons training in 1991, told IPS, “I am a worried man, you see my Pakistani wife can be sent back any time.” He says he had just learnt tailoring when the craze among Kashmiri youth to join an armed rebellion against India became widespread.

“When I saw many youth going to Pakistan for receiving arms training, it attracted me as well and I set off,” he told IPS. “The journey was tough, we had to walk through rugged terrain in order to sneak into the other side of the LoC.”

On one occasion, he said, his group was spotted by Indian troops, but they made it across. “When I reached Pakistan, I developed cold feet and decided not to come back. I decided to settle in Pakistan and started taking up tailoring jobs. And when it seemed I was earning good enough to support a family, I married a Pakistani girl, Rashida.”

Now back in Kashmir on the Indian side, the couple have two children and the family seems quite happy. Ahmad has concerns about the likely deportation of his Pakistani wife, and she is worried that living in Kashmir would not be that easy. “My husband can be harassed any time by the security agencies as they don’t trust us,” Ahmad’s wife Rashida told IPS.

The former militants who have returned along with their families say that their journey back was as tough as the one from this side. They say Pakistani security agencies do not allow them through the easy crossing points connecting the two parts of Kashmir, and the Indian agencies put them through a series of investigations before they can get home.

More than 90 percent of the families come via Nepal. “But it is too costly and hectic,” says Ahmad whose journey back home was possible after he spent 2.5 lakh rupees (4,100 dollars).  He said he had to pay an agent in Rawalpindi for arranging the travel documents for the family.

But he has no regrets. “I had made my mind to bear these heavy expenses because I desperately wanted to come home.”

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