MUZAFFARABAD – As millions of Muslims worldwide celebrated `Eid Al-Fitr with festive family gatherings, the occasion has revived miserable feelings for Kashmiri Muslims, where one of the most heavily militarized borders in the world divided members of the same family.
"I miss my mother, sisters and brother all the time but especially at Eid," Uzhair Mohammad Ghazali, 38, at a refugee camp on the outskirts of Muzaffarabad, the main town in Pakistani Kashmir, told Agence France Presse (AFP) on Friday, August 9.
"I've been weeping for them here while they've been weeping for me there. We have no hope that we'll be reunited in our lives."
Families split between Indian and Pakistani administered Kashmir have barely seen each other for decades.
Like thousands of Kashmiri Muslims, Ghazali fled India's crackdown against a separatist insurgency in Indian-administered Kashmir when he was just 15.
Reaching Pakistan, he has married and had six children of his own. Yet, apart from trekking to a border crossing to stare at them through the barbed wire, he has not seen his family again.
Sometimes the families speak by telephone and Ghazali saw his sisters after Eid in 2012 when they stood on opposite banks of the river next to the Tetwal crossing point and stared at each other.
The situation was getting worse following deadly cross-border attack in which five Indian soldiers were killed on Monday.
India accused specialist Pakistani troops of being involved in the killings, hinting at stronger military action.
Pakistan denied involvement in the attack.
A flare-up along the Line of Control (LoC) in January, in which two Indian soldiers were killed, brought stop-start peace talks to a halt.
The low-level talks had only just resumed following a three-year hiatus sparked by the 2008 Mumbai attacks that claimed 166 lives.
In Pakistani Kashmir, there are 15 camps housing 34,747 registered refugees, who each get a stipend of 1,500 rupees ($15) a month, says government refugees official Nabeel Qureshi.
Kashmir is divided into two parts and ruled by India and Pakistan, which have fought two of their three wars since the 1947 independence over the region.
Pakistan and the UN back the right of the Kashmir people for self-determination, an option opposed by New Delhi.
As the rare cross border visits were getting harder, `Eid brought emotional memories of united families.
"We live across a bloodied line of bad luck that has divided my family. The fresh incidents on the border unfortunately strengthen this divide," Khwaja Ghulam Rasool, 50, who lives in Garkot village on the Indian side in the Uri sector, near the LoC, told AFP.
His brother, uncle and their families live right across the de facto border on the other side.
They met for the first time in 30 years after a bus service started between Srinagar and Muzaffarabad, but frequent visits are increasingly difficult, he says, because it takes up to six months to process repeat permissions to travel on the bus.
He says the sadness at separation is much worse at Eid, "when the urge to be together and meet freely is at the greatest".
"All I pray for, all the time, is that India and Pakistan come together so that this line just vanishes," he said.
Elderly Nasima Bibi was also another Kashmiri Muslim whose family was divided by war.
She came in 1992 with her husband, two daughters and one son but left behind her eldest son as he was away staying with his grandparents when Indian troops came to their village.
"Indian forces launched a crackdown in our village. They arrested my husband, tortured him and broke his arm," 50-year-old Bibi said crying.
"We were terrified and fled in darkness. We reached Pakistani Kashmir in three days. We hid during the day and travelled during the night. We did not wait to treat my husband's broken arm and that's why my son was left behind," Bibi told AFP.
Her son is now 33 and married with children, yet she cannot get through on the phone during the holy fasting month of Ramadan that ends with `Eid.
"How can a mother celebrate Eid without her son? I've missed him very much every time," Bibi said.
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