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One-to-one contact stops between citizens of India and Pakistan
By MH Lakdawala, Mumbai

Passengers of the last bus and last train (left)

As war cries get shriller with traditional rivals raising the ante, edifice of amity crumbles into history as the Delhi Transport Corporation (DTC) bus, Sada-e Sarhad, Samjhauta express and PIA flights, services stand suspended 

The termination of the Samjhauta Express effective January 1, 2002, would bring to an end 25 years of its operation between Delhi and Lahore. It was only last year that the two countries had upgraded this bi-weekly service, introducing a sleeper class/economy class. The agreement for the operation of the train service would have come up for renewal in January. 

The bus service, named Sada-e Sarhad, was launched in February 1999 with the prime minister's journey to Lahore. The service operated from Delhi on Tuesdays, Wednesdays, Fridays and Saturdays.With these one-to-one contact between the people of the two nations is totally stopped.

Two months ago Darvesh's household was abuzz with his sister's forthcoming visit. Together the families made plans for their sister and relatives from Karachi for a favorite niece's wedding in January. Now, what's staring them in the face was the absence of their younger sister who left for Karachi on the last PIA flight, without attending marriage scheduled for 4th January. The pain of departing without attending the niece's wedding was quite visible on the face of Sarah." What we have done to deserve this. Politicians play their game and we common people had to suffer" she said before boarding last flight to Karachi. 

Though many Indians and Pakistanis already find it easier to visit each other via the Gulf, this is a luxury enjoyed largely by a privileged class. For ordinary people, the government's new policy only spells gloom. 

Javid Darvesh now opines that it is better if cross-border marriages come to end or avoided as the pain of not being able to meet near and dear ones is unbearable. '"Who wants the CID dropping in all the time?'' he asks. "We'll look for good grooms here,'' he says. "We have to forget that we have families there and be content with brief e-mails saying 'All's well". 

For many Indians and Pakistanis, a trip across the border has always meant years of saving and planning, with trips up and down the respective capitals being pushed around by insensitive police and embassy staff. 

By the time the new rules are revoked, their visas will expire and they'll have to start from scratch. And with reduced embassy staff, fewer visas will be issued,'' says Zahida who is married to a Pakistani and lived in both the countries. "The government's rash political gimmickry will play havoc with families who've nothing to do with politics.'' Zahida and her husband have chosen to retain their respective citizenships and plan to find jobs in a third country to be able to live together. "Not all Indian brides have that kind of choice,'' she says. Brides across the border will now have no support system, she says. There existed the last resort of coming back home. But the breakdown of travel has left them with no option but to put up with hellish marriages". 

"It's a brief halt, a sad one but just that. We will soon resume flights to India. We have resumed operations after fighting two wars and this is not even a war. It's a petty skirmish between two brothers which will be alright in a few days." This is how Pervez Ahmed Khan, manager (western and southern India), Pakistan International Airlines, summed up his feelings while talking to Milli Gazette about the decision of the two countries to cancel flights. 

This is the first time after the Surat plague a few years ago when flights between the two countries were cancelled. Prior to that, the operations were suspended during the 1965 and 1971 wars. The Samjhauta express, the only trans-border passenger train is by far the cheapest means of communication -- the fare being as low as Rs 166 or less than $5 from Delhi to Lahore -- for the poor families torn apart by the 1947 partition. 

The train, which was introduced on July 22, 1976 as a result of Simla Pact, survived many allegations and controversies about being used as a conduit for counterfeit currency, smugglers and infiltrators from Pakistan and faced demands for termination in the wake of Kargil war two years ago. 

It ran for a quarter of a century under a unique bilateral arrangement before New Delhi finally called it off as part of its diplomatic offensive against Pakistan. Throughout its 25-year run the train has had a chequered history, its run being a virtual barometer of official relations between the two countries.

In all its history it was stopped only for a fortnight after the Babri Masjid demolition in 1992, when Pakistan had pulled back as a token of protest. For the first 20 years the train had an almost smooth run with the 1976 agreement on its introduction being reviewed periodically till 1991, when a fresh agreement was signed after a review. The Governments reviewed it in 1994 and 1997. The train, in fact, became more popular after the introduction of the Delhi Lahore bus service.

Leaving Mumbai clearly weighed heavily on Perwez Ahmed Khan's wife, Bushra Rukhsana, who left for Karachi on last PIA flight from Mumbai. 'Itne achche log hain yahan par. Aisa lagta hi nahin tha ke hum ghar se dur hain kahin' (The people here are so nice, we never felt being away from home). We have stayed in many countries but yahan ki baat hi alag hai. Culture, food, people, everything is the same,'' she says with moist eyes. 

The couple, like many on either side of the border, is sad that the people-to-people contacts between the two countries have come to a halt. 'Actress Saira Banu's father, Ahsaan Ahmed, lives in the Clifton area of Karachi, while her mother, Naseem Bano, lives with her in Mumbai,'' she says. Artist MF Husain, who stays in the same Jolly Maker building at Cuffe Parade as the Khans, also has a few relatives in Pakistan. 

Relatives or not, the longing and attraction for either side is equal in India and Pakistan,'' Ms Khan says. Zahir Shah a businessman from Mumbai today is a broken person not economically but emotionally. His father Hussain expired in the last week of December, being sick for the last three months. The old man's ONLY DESIRE was to meet his youngest daughter Rehana who is married to his eldest brother's son in Karachi. "Dad survived on the death bed as if his only desire was to see my youngest sister. Time and again he inquired about her arrival. In fact all the arrangements were made. The only problem was the completion of Visa formalities" said Zahir. "Rehana ultimately got visa and was supposed to fly in a couple of days. But unfortunately she had to cancel her visit due to restriction on travels imposed by both governments. When dad was informed about her not being able to come, the very next day he expired, as if he was alive only to meet his beloved daughter."

The pain and agony undergone by the common masses for being unable to meet their near and dear ones on the occasions of happiness or sorrow is not the priority of the politicians of both the countries. When will governments begin to give utmost priority to common man's problems rather than resorting to rhetorics just to score political or diplomatic points over each other?

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