But now hundreds of signposts around the predominantly Muslim Vale of Kashmir have been erected to spell out just how close the two rival areas really are.

The signs are part of a promotion by the ruling Peoples’ Democratic Party to reopen the Srinagar-Muzaffarabad road that served as the most vital road link between the two cities prior to first Kashmir war of 1947-48.

The vital link

Buses used to ply between Muzaffarabad and Srinagar before the first Kashmir war. After 1947, the service was discontinued because of the dispute over Kashmir and perennial tensions between Pakistan and India.

When New Delhi included the introduction of Muzaffarabad-Srinagar bus service proposal in a package of confidence building measures (CBMs), Islamabad did not see any fault in the proposal as such but placed certain preconditions for India to meet before the idea could be translated into reality.

It wanted passengers to use UN travel documents because Kashmir was a disputed territory. New Delhi had dismissed the counter-proposal.

Pakistan has repeatedly made it clear that the Muzaffarabad-Srinagar bus service and several other CBMs would not be allowed to overshadow the Kashmir dispute.

Life is back

For although the conflict continues to cause human sufferings, there are numerous places around the province where there is a good semblance of security.

"We need soft borders - then, borders are not so important. People on both sides of the border should be able to move freely"

Dr Manmohan Singh,
India's new prime minister

What has given many more Kashmiri's hope was the election of a new Indian Prime Minister.

Dr Manmohan Singh has impressed many with his talk of being deadly serious about the peace initiative with Pakistan.

He said in an interview shortly after assuming office that "soft borders" might hold the key. He said, "We need soft borders - then, borders are not so important. People on both sides of the border should be able to move freely."

Berlin Wall comparison

To a former Kashmiri bureaucrat Muhammad Ashraf: "If the Berlin wall can collapse under the moral and physical wait of East and West Germans then why not the Line of Control?"

The former director general of tourism in Kashmir who recently went across to meet his relatives asserted, "I feel tourism and travel are the best medicine to cure all ills of suspicion, ignorance and intolerance."

Like Ashraf’s thousands of Kashmiri families remain separated as the result of the partition and want the barriers to be removed.

Kashmiri optimism 

The hope of a Kashmiri lies there. It is the hope of a better future that has caused populations to surge back into the Valley and Azad Kashmir - as the Pakistan-administered Kashmir is known.

Consequently, reopening the bus route will not only reunite the divided families after a gap of more than 56 years but will also reconnect a trade route and a possible political solution.

Chief minister Mufti Muhammad Sayid says, "Kashmiri apples as well as exquisite handicrafts will go to Lahore and Karachi and likewise the Pakistani products will come to Srinagar and Jammu, the trade that would remove the walls of hatred and help in creating a better understanding between the two peoples."