Just a couple of months back, this remote mountainous north strip of Azad Jammu as well as Kashmir (AJK) called Neelam Valley was blazing with bullets as Indian and also Pakistani forces were exchanging fire.
Currently the hills as high as 17,000 feet along the 740 kilometers (460 miles) Line of Control (LoC), that divides Jammu as well as Kashmir right into India as well as Pakistan are obscuring and resembling with audios of loudspeakers, as electioneering gets in AJK to choose regional assembly on July 25.
A convoy of over two lots jeeps and also buses is making its way on a slim and battered hilly roadway along the gushing waters of Neelam River additionally called Kishanganga River.
Their location is Kail– a village of scenic Neelam Valley– simply a couple of meters far from the very militarized as well as globe’s most hazardous border.
The 144 km (89 mi) lengthy strip of Neelam Valley is bordered by the Kupwara and also Bandipora districts of Indian-administered Jammu and also Kashmir on the southern side across the LoC.
In the stunning valley perched in Harmukh mountains part of great Himalayas, around noontime under clear skies, over 2,000 individuals have actually collected in the vast sports ground of a government college in Kail to show support to their prospect, belonging to Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) of Head Of State Imran Khan, which is taking part in the upcoming elections as a preferred.
Some youths have their faces repainted in the celebration flag colors.
” Till a few months back, it was hard to envision about a public gathering right here,” Zafar Ali, a participant, said while talking to Anadolu Company.
Simply a couple of meters away, right in the middle of the exchange, large-size banners of the candidates from the Pakistan Muslim Organization (Nawaz) of the three-time Pakistani Head of state Nawaz Sharif, and also Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP) of the killed Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto, are put, showing a tough competition between the three parties.
This rally took more than two hrs to cover a 20 km (12 mi) range from the Sharda community, to get to Kail due to careless terrain.
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High decibel campaign
After every few miles, the convoy took breaks as cheering youths bring celebration flags danced to drum-beating and chanted slogans.
” It is because of the cease-fire, we are sitting here without any fear,” Ali, a student of Kail College said while wiping out sweat from his forehead with a handkerchief.
” Otherwise, people would not even dare to assemble for a small wedding (until February) as no one knew when and where the shell would hit,” he said.
Over 3.2 million voters will elect a 53-member assembly for a five-year term. Out of 53 seats, 45 are general, while eight are reserved for women, technocrats, and religious scholars.
As many as 12 seats are reserved for those who have migrated from Indian-administered Jammu and Kashmir.
At one point, the convoy numbed into a smaller rally of another political party coming from the opposite side. It raised the temperatures, as both of them raised slogans with high pitches. But they passed each other peacefully.
The election euphoria has visibly taken over this famous tourist destination- a rare happening here- following the return of normalcy in the wake of a recent cease-fire agreement between India and Pakistan.
In February, the two militaries agreed to honor the 2003 cease-fire agreement along the LoC, followed by an exchange of letters between the two premiers, which was widely viewed as an outcome of backchannel diplomacy.
” Not only the Neelam Valley but all the districts along the LoC have been overtaken by the festivities of the election,” said Safeer Kyani, a jeep driver, who was part of the rally.
Some 16 out of 45 general seats fall in the districts located along the LoC, which, according to analysts, may play a decisive role in the formation of the next government.
” Elections activities in 2011 and 2016 were restricted due to fears of shelling from across the border,” Kyani said pointing to nearby trenches resulted due to shelling from across the LoC. The area was witnessing a daily dose of shelling and sniper attacks until February this year, killing hundreds of troops and civilians from both sides.
Banners and flags cover region
Unfazed by the hilly terrain and battered track, many youths sporting party flags zoom past motorbikes and jeeps risking their lives.
Shops and restaurants in the main bazaars of Kail and in Sharda town, which houses the ancient seat of learning like world-famous Taxila and Nalanda are decorated with party flags and banners.
Party songs are blaring at many shops, which have been converted into temporary election offices.
Even in small villages along the Neelam River, party flags are hoisted on the houses and shops, indicating their affiliations.
One of the world’s most militarized zones, Jammu and Kashmir have been a bone of contention between the two neighbors since they partitioned and got independence from British Empire in 1947. Since then, the two countries have fought three wars- two of them in Kashmir.