What was it like for a Western woman to work in Kashmir following 9/11? Kashmir was the key to the dispute between Pakistan and India since their independence from the British in 1947. Each country claims Kashmir as a part of its territory. The year 2002 is a time of heightened conflict between Pakistan and India at the Line of Control; America’s war against terror in Afghanistan; the targeted bombing of foreigners by Muslim extremists in Pakistan; and the search for the murderer of Daniel Pearl, The Washington Post journalist.
Kashmir, a picturesque but troubled land, is caught between two conflicting nations. A rebellion during Partition, independence between India and Pakistan, in 1947 led to the establishment of the Line of Control close to the city of Muzaffarabad in Pakistan – a cease-fire line – that bisects Kashmir into the India side and the Pakistan-administered side. To the east of the Line is the valley of Kashmir, Jammu, and Ladakh administered by India. To the west is Azad Kashmir, which has its own government, although administered by Pakistan. Azad Kashmir is Pakistans ‘Jugular Vein’ – strangulation by India would be certain death. Sporadic gun-fire occurred daily at the Line of Control; bullets and land mines killed innocent villagers and children.
KASHMIR ON A KNIFE-EDGE balances fact with fiction as education consultant, Jorja Himmermann, works in the Pakistan-administered state of Kashmir after international consultants are evacuated from the region in the aftermath of 9/11. She lives in the Sangam Hotel, Muzaffarabad, situated at the unique occurrence of nature: the confluence of two rapidly flowing rivers, one from India and the other from the north of Pakistan. The turbulent river reflects the lives of the Kashmiris, yet is knows no political bounds. It has a sense of direction and cuts its own path to freedom. ‘Fear the river,’ the hotel manager warns Jorja. ‘It has taken the lives of many Kashmiris because of its rocky bottom and its swiftness. It can freeze a body or pound it to death in a matter of minutes.’ Her husband had died in a river while whitewater rafting in New Zealand two years earlier. The river was swollen, the weather inclement, and he was under-prepared. For Jorja, the river and the moon were impending omens of turmoil and disaster. Tragedy was surely on its way.
It is also a time of extreme danger. Earthquakes strike fear in the region’s inhabitants; protests by gun-toting patriotic youth are frequent; kidnapping of foreigners is common; and the massacre at an international protestant church in Islamabad puts foreigners on edge. The American-led Operation Anaconda continues to hunt down Osama bin Laden—to find him and end Al-Quaeda’s reign of terror. Almost everyone in Kashmir has a theory of where the Taliban—Osama bin Laden’s protectors—are hiding him.
Gadi, the office typist, wants Jorga to hunt for Osama bin Laden – the most wanted man on earth – for the lucrative award. How absurd!
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