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The journey home, finally
Passengers from Pok touch the ground after crossing Kaman Bridge.(AFP)

Srinagar/Salamabad, April 7: Abida Ansari bent down to kiss the soil. As she stood up, her eyes glistened with unshed tears.

Another passenger, a young man from Muzaffarabad, was on his knees.

Emotions ran high as the 30 Pakistani Kashmiris walked across the Aman Setu (Peace Bridge) to the Indian side, over a military line that has divided them and their land with blood for nearly 60 years.

'This bus should run,' said Mohammed Farooq, one of those on the bus to Srinagar. 'When a person has to die, a person has to die. Life and death is in God's hands.'

For Abida, who is in her 40s, it was a dream come true. Even a few months ago, the bridge she had just crossed had been heavily mined to stop people like her and the 29 others who had taken the bus from the capital of Pakistan-occupied Kashmir.

Today, an army band played a welcome tune as Indian military officers queued up to greet them. Even the metal bridge, that till two days ago was called Kaman Bridge, had been given an apt new name. Abida was proud she was part of this 'caravan of peace'.

'I should have been here a long time back. I was born here and have a lot of relatives on this side,' another passenger said. What kind of steps would he like the governments of the two countries to take' 'Any step taken for peace and love is a good step.' It really does not make a difference,' he said.

'I can't control my emotion. I am setting foot in my motherland,' said a tearful Shahid Bahar, a lawyer from Muzaffarabad. 'I am coming here for the first time to meet my blood relations.' Bahar's father had crossed over in 1949. 'It was my dream. It is unbelievable. Everyone is here.'

The visitors were hugged and kissed by relatives they had not held for decades, or in some cases, ever. 'It's for the first time that I have seen my uncle,' sobbed Noreen Arif, an adviser to Pakistani Kashmir's Prime Minister, bursting into tears and hugging him as he stepped off the bridge.

'There is a risk, but I am taking the risk so that this bus is the first step towards a resolution of (the) Kashmir (dispute),' said Sharif Hussain Bukhari, a retired Pakistani judge returning after 55 years to see his sister and cousins.

'The Line of Control could fall like the Berlin Wall.'

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