“We left behind everything when we came to this side, but not for such living conditions. Some of our family that stayed behind in India now mock us about our migration,” says Haji Shahzad.
Shahzad, in his early 70s, is a resident of Bhanoo Chak, a village located on the Indo-Pak border.
“The border force here has made our lives miserable. We live not under the threat of India but this force. Day and night, we have to live by their rules,” Shahzad says.
Bhanoo Chak, a village occupied by Sikhs who fled at the time of partition, is an hour’s drive from central Lahore and is closest in distance to the border.
“We just want peace so that there is relaxation on the border and we can have normal lives again,” adds Shahzad.
Mostly farmers, these men are not allowed to roam around freely after 6pm and need to acquire no-objection certificates before constructing anything on their property.
Many of these villagers have families that were divided in the partition in 1947 and wish to go meet them.
“We have family in Rajasthan. They want to come visit us and we want to go and visit them too. But we have to go through bureaucratic hurdles that we have stopped making the effort,” says Shahzad.
Pakistan Rangers Colonel Osman Siddiqui, who is in charge of the Wagah Border area, says that without checks and balances, he cannot trust anyone in the area. “The border is a sensitive spot, and to stop smuggling and unwanted people from crossing over, we have devised a system where we allow men to roam in these areas only between 6am and 6pm,” he says.
When asked if he will ease the policy in case the Pakistan-India dialogue is successful, he replied that national policy and local policy are different subjects. “When a change happens in the national policy, we can see. But for now, the policy will stay the same since the force needs to be vigilant,” he said.
Many villagers believe that if Pakistani and Indian leaders sincerely wanted peace, an accord could be reached today. They also do not fear another war with India.
“In 1965, Indian forces destroyed our homes. There were planes overhead and even the Pakistan Army had little idea what was going on,” says Mohammad Tayyab, who was barely seven years old at the time. “But today, we cannot expect the same as we are now a nuclear state.”
Still, the villagers are always on their toes. “Every time Pakistan Army increases its presence on the border area, I fear I may have to leave home again,” says Tayyab, who moved his family out of the village during a standoff in 2002.
For some, however, peace is just a far-fetched but beautiful dream. “Peace is not possible, even though it will be good for both our countries. We will [finally] be living with no fear,” says Azeem impatiently, during a short break from a cricket match.
Published in The Express Tribune, June 24th, 2011.
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