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Special Pilgrim Bus Service From Muzaffarabad To Hazratbal Shrine
By Advocate Tanweer Wani
Ethical principles shared by the peoples of different regions of the globe have the potential to act as the facilitator in diplomacy. Religious diplomacy as such should in all cases be promoted to facilitate economic and political peace between the nations. The special bus service project is one such measure which envisions a measure breakthrough in Indo-Pak relations through religious diplomacy. Apart from its positive effects on Indo Pak relations the project recognizes a moral duty of bringing to the Hazratbal Shrine its devotees from the Pakistan side of Kashmir who find themselves divided by the border line.

The existing bus service between Srinagar to Muzaffarabad, the two parts of Kashmir divided by the border, envisioned by Ambassador John McDonald, chairman of The Institute of Multi Track Diplomacy (IMTD), not only refueled the deteriorating Indo-Pak relations, but also brought hope to millions of Kashmiris, divided half a century ago by the infamous division. The success story of the bus service stands a witness that if the state parties are committed then the ice frozen from ages could be thawed to free flowing water. However, the people's desire to merge into a borderless Kashmir demands that much needs to be done in the area. IMTD and KIPS seeks the support of governments of India and Pakistan to push forward the project and make it a reality.

Goals and Objectives

1. Start a special bus service from Muzaffarabad to Hazratbal shrine.

2. Spur the Indo-Pak peace process stalemated after the Peoples bus initiative.

3. Introduction of religious diplomacy in the region.

Executive Summary

Founded in 1992, the Institute for Multi-Track Diplomacy (IMTD) is a unique INGO which demonstrates a systems-based approach to Peace Building and facilitates the transformation of deep-rooted social conflict. Presently, IMTD has more than 1300 members in 31 countries, and is supported by a wide range of key personnel, associates and interns from all across the globe, who share its vision and support its core values and beliefs. IMTD has worked extensively in South Asia, and has implemented projects related to the Punjab-Punjab region in India and Pakistan, Tibetan Government in Exile (TGIE) in India, and Kashmiris in India and Pakistan.

IMTD has focused on the development and progress of those impacted by communal violence, national disturbances, and societal disharmony. For instance, August 2011 will mark the fifteenth successful year of conflict training for the Tibetan community in exile, encompassing dialogue, forgiveness and reconciliation, and diplomacy. Furthermore, IMTD has spent the last few years training politicians from Pakistan-administered Kashmir at the local and ministerial levels in conflict resolution skills and methods of collaborative communication and negotiation. Also, IMTD has been actively involved in conflict training and trauma healing for victims (primarily traditionally marginalized groups in society) of the recent Maoist insurgencies in Nepal. Similarly, IMTD has played a significant role in the Srinagar-Muzaffarabad Bus Service, Ambassador John Mc Donald, chairman of IMTD, had identified the need of the bus service in his visit to refugee camps in Muzaffarabad; he initiated the process which triggered the governments of India and Pakistan to start it. IMTD in collaboration with KIPS (Kashmir Institute of Peace Studies), a Kashmir based peace institute, headed by this writer, seeks to continue the substantial peace process which was put on track by Srinagar-Muzaffarabad bus.

Dargah Hazratbal: A point of Religious Diplomacy

Hazratbal shrine is a Muslim shrine in Srinagar city of Jammu and Kashmir. It contains a relic believed by many Muslims of Kashmir to be a hair of the Prophet of Islam, Hazard Mohammad. The shrine is situated on the western shore of the Dal Lake, and is considered as holiest Muslim shrine of the region by every Kashmiri. During the time of Aurangzeb, a Mughal ruler, The Holy Relic reached Kashmir in 1699; it was first kept in the shrine of Naqashband Sahib in the heart of the city. Since the place was found to be insufficient in view of unprecedented rush of the people who thronged to the place to have a glimpse of the Holy Relic, it was decided to shift the Relic to Hazratbal. The construction of the present marble structure was started by the Muslim Awkaaf Trust headed by Sheikh Mohammad Abdullah, grandfather of present chief minister of Kashmir Umer Abdullah, in 1968. The Muslim population of the region is sentimentally attached to the place and sees it with high reverence. This shared sentiment has potential to serve as tool of religious diplomacy; and if explored it can step toward bringing peace to the region and relief to the peoples of Kashmir.

A Brief Modality of the Project

The project aims to start a special bus service from Muzaffarabad to Hazratbal Shrine located on the Dal Lake's western shore, in Srinagar. The devotees from Pakistan side of Kashmir would board the bus in Muzaffarabad in the early morning, travel along the Baramulla road to reach Srinagar city. The passengers can change the bus at the Indian side of the border, as is the case with the current bus service between the two cities of Kashmir. The bus will take the scenic route of Foreshore which happens to pass through the famous Mughal gardens as well, so the devotees would get a chance to see the beauty of the Kashmir from which they have been deprived by the infamous division of the state. The devotees would alight at Hazratbal, offer their devotion and prayers in the shrine. After completing their prayers they would be asked to board the bus again so that the bus would take the same route back. The modalities regarding the travel document, verifications would be as they are applicable to the existing bus service.

Benefits of the Project

A Peace Measure

The existing bus service measure came as badly needed tonic to weakening India Pak relations and a dialogue process that was in danger of petering out. This special bus service could serve as the ignition to the peace process to a substantial process. Any peace measure does not produce significant change unless it is not felt by the peoples who actually do suffer. In this case it is people of Kashmir. The people of the Kashmir have not seen any substantial progress in the peace process that was put on track with start of the bus serves. A subsequent passive attitude of the governments to move forward allowed the outbreak of uprisings and consequent innocent killings in the valley. This project furnishes an opportunity to the governments of India and Pakistan to move forward and employ a peace measure which can produce a significant effect on Kashmiris.

A measure that would waive the requirement of having a legitimate relative on the Indian side of Kashmir

The situation with the current bus service is that an aspiring visitor from the Pakistan side of Kashmir has to show that he or she has a legitimate relation across the border in Indian side of Kashmir. Once the requirement is met to the satisfaction of both the governments, only then he or she is allowed to travel in the bus. After more than sixty years of partition, people's families have been disconnected, so it is very difficult for a bona fide aspiring visitor to show that he has a legitimate relative across the border. This requirement denies the chances of a Kashmiri in Pakistan who would like to see the other side mother land. It is strange that a tourist from any part of the world can visit the beautiful valley; however a Kashmiri from the Pakistan side of Kashmir cannot visit, unless he has a legitimate relative across the border. This special bus service would in effect waive this irrational requirement of 'relative showing'.

Economic

The past twenty years of turmoil had put the economy of the state into peril. Every such measure that produces a small effect is valuable. The cross border trade between the two sides of Kashmir is already in place; however the citizens of the two sides are rarely aware of the market requirements of the corresponding zones. Furthermore the visitors that would visit the shrine are very likely to spend and bring business to vendors at the shrine.

Though the apparent economic benefits of the purpose of the project are incidental, however IMTD envisions this project as a significant confidence-building measure which can have a substantial positive effect on the current political situation in Kashmir. Stalemated peace process directed at the final settlement of the dispute, initiated by states of India and Pakistan. This project will also open the gates for religious diplomacy in the region.

(The author is Program Manager, Institute for Multi Track Diplomacy.

This project is developed by Advocate Tanveer Wani, President of Kashmir Institute of Peace Studies (KIPS), a peace activist from Kashmir currently based in Washington DC. He is graduating in US Foreign Relations Law from George Washington University, Washington DC, USA.)
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News Updated at : Friday, November 23, 2012
 
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