THE BODY of a seven-year-old boy floats down a river from Pakistan to a village in India. There, it is preserved with ice blocks carved out from the mountainside. Finally, an Indian team carries the dead child through a minefield maze to the Line of Control (LoC).
Over the last three days, past many twists and turns, a rare story of heart and heartbreak played out in Achoora village in Gurez valley along the LoC in North Kashmir. On Thursday, the body of Aabid Sheikh was handed over to the Pakistan Army.
“I am seeing such an exchange for the first time in my life,” said Nazir Ahmad Gurezi, a former MLA from Gurez, where the body was handed over.
It was on Tuesday that some residents of Achoora spotted the body floating down the Kishanganga river. Within hours, they came across a photo of a “missing child” on a Facebook page from Minimarg Astoor village in Pakistan-occupied Kashmir’s Gilgit-Baltistan. Then, they saw a video on social media of a distraught family from PoK appealing for the return of their son, Aabid, who had gone missing on Monday.
“As soon we came to know about it, we approached the Army and asked them to take up the matter with their counterparts across the border,” Bandipora Deputy Commissioner, Shabhaz Mirza, told The Indian Express.
Achoora, meanwhile, grappled with a problem they had never encountered before. “The area has no mortuary. Finally, we had to arrange icepacks carved out from the mountainside to prevent the body from decomposing,” said Tariq Ahmed, SHO, Gurez.
But then came the first twist. Fearing that the body would decompose, the Indian side wanted the handover on Wednesday from Gurez. Pakistan, however, was keen on accepting the body at the official exchange point through the Teetwal crossing in Kupwara district, over 200 km away. Their worry, officials said, was the mines dotting the area around Gurez.
But by evening, officials said, the Pakistani side relented, and an Indian team of government officials and Army personnel walked to the last post — only to find no response from the other side. “The body was brought back and kept in a hospital in Gurez,” said Mirza.
“On Thursday morning, the Pakistan Army showed a positive response and the body was handed over… The team that handed over the body had to navigate its way through the minefield area to reach the meeting point,” official sources said.
“We handed over the body at 12.39 pm, and the Pakistan Army accepted it after identification,” said one of the Indian team members.
General Officer Commanding (GOC) of the Srinagar-based 15 Corps Lt Gen KJS Dhillon told The Indian Express: “This time, instead of returning it through official exchange points like Teetwal, we did so in the same area so that the mortal remains do not get decomposed…it was a humanitarian gesture.”
Back in Gurez, the talk is all about Aabid.
“Everyone was following the case keenly since Day One. Today, it has brought together two villages divided by the Line of Control… and two countries shed their bitterness for humanity,” said Ghulam Mohammed, a local resident.