History was made in Kashmir on Thursday, or rather it was unmade.
The road connecting the Valley to the Pakistan-occupied-Kashmir, shut for 57 years because of the tensions between Delhi and Islamabad, was reopened. It would now be possible for hundreds of Kashmiri families, divided by the Line of Control, to reunite.
At 1345 IST, 30 passengers of a bus from Muzaffarabad, the capital of Pakistan-occupied Kashmir, took what Prime Minister Manmohan Singh described as a 'small but significant step' by crossing the Kaman Bridge straddling the LoC into Indian territory.
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They were welcomed by J&K Chief Minister Mufti Mohammed Sayeed with flowers and sweets.
Nearly three hours later, 19 Indians crossed over the same bridge into PoK.
The bridge, freshly painted in striking white, was appropriately rechristened 'Aman Setu' by the Indians for the ceremony, but there was an interesting story going around why it was painted white -- no, not because white symbolises peace.
It turns out that the Indian army, which did most of the work to get the decrepit bridge into shape, had painted it in the colours of the Indian flag. But the Pakistanis one night painted it all green. A compromise was then reached and the bridge was painted white.
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But that was just a small aside on a day that was described as historic by almost all -- even sworn political rivals in Kashmir.
It was an emotional moment for the passengers, mostly of the pre-Partition generation, from both sides when they walked across the Kaman Bridge defying militant threats.
Earlier in the morning, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and United Progressive Alliance chairperson Sonia Gandhi flagged off the two buses carrying 21 passengers at the Sher-e-Kashmir cricket stadium in Srinagar amidst tight security.
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Just a day back, two militants had attacked the Tourist Reception Centre in Srinagar where passengers scheduled to travel to Muzaffarabad were housed. Thirteen people were injured in the attack and the TRC building gutted.
However, less than 24 hours after the attack, all 21 passengers lined up to board the two buses. They were cheered by hundreds of people at the flagging off ceremony and en route to Kaman bridge.
An aged couple, however, dropped off the bus citing ill health barely 4 km into the journey.
Militants triggered a powerful IED blast in Pattan, about 27 km from Srinagar, minutes after the bus passed the town.
Addressing a huge gathering at the Sher-e-Kashmir cricket stadium in pouring rain, Singh said the bus service was a small but significant step for Jammu and Kashmir, the whole of India and a new chapter in the growing Indo-Pak ties.
Thanking all those who contributed in making the bus service a reality, the prime minister said: "This would not have been possible but for the cooperation of the Government of Pakistan, especially President Pervez Musharraf."
On their arrival in Muzaffarabad, the Indian passengers were received by PoK Prime Minister Sardar Sikandar Hayat Khan.
Emotions ran high as the visitors met their near and dear ones, some of whom they were seeing for the first time.
With inputs from PTI