Divided Kashmir Families Link Up

Divided families were brought together via a video link in June, 2004. (Photo: Gulf Daily News)

Her eyes swelled with tears, but Hafeeza Begum's broad smile showed that they were of joy, not sorrow. She was seeing her 80-year-old mother for the first time in 20 years via a video link between the Pakistani and Indian sides of the hotly contested and divided region of Kashmir.

"Twenty years is such a long time, it was like a dream, it was like a real meeting," Begum said in Muzaffarabad, capital of Pakistan-controlled Kashmir, after the video conference set up by the British Broadcasting Corporation.

The scenic, mostly Muslim Himalayan region has been divided between Pakistan and India since 1948, a year after the two countries gained independence from Britain. The nuclear-armed neighbours have fought two of their three major wars over Kashmir.

A heavily fortified 742-km ceasefire line cuts through its jagged mountains and leafy green valleys, dividing families and communities.

"Please come soon, I don't know how long I will live," 50-year-old Fahmida cried when she saw her brother on the screen.

"There are rumours the road is opening, please take the first bus," she said in Srinagar, capital of Indian Kashmir.

Begum was in her teens when she came to Pakistani Kashmir along with her brother and got married to a cousin in 1980.

She went back to Indian Kashmir twice, in 1982 and 1983, to see her mother, but since then has only spoken by telephone or exchanged occasional letters because of travel curbs brought on by tension between the countries.

Six divided families will be brought together through the video link organised by the BBC over three days this week.