Muzafarrabad-Chakothi Road; a road to paradise on earth (article published on Sunday, September 4, 2011 in The Review, magazine of Pakistan Today)
By Yasir Habib
Amina, only 13 and a resident of the Indian Held Kashmir (IHK), has never met her first cousin Rashida (10), who lives in Azad Jammu Kashmir (AJK). Both live on opposite sides of the Line of Control at Chakothi, some miles away from AJK capital Muzafarrabad. Recently they have learnt that their families are planning to visit each other in the near future. Now an overjoyed Amina is all set to meet a similarly excited Rashida. What has made this reunion possible is theMuzafarrabad-Chakothi Road, presently under construction, and expected to be completed next year.
The all-weather road runs along the curling riverJhelumthat flows from East to West between the lofty and lush green mountains and joins River Neelum at Domel, near Muzaffarabad city. It meets the Line of Control (LoC) – the de facto border. Originally known as the Ceasefire Line, it was redesignated as the “Line of Control” following the Simla Agreement, which was signed on July 3, 1972.
The 460 miles long LoC was opened from Chakothi check post, at one end of Muzafarrabad-Chakothi road after the 2003 cease-fire agreement managed to pull the two sides back from the brink of what could had been the fourth major war between them. And in the intervening years, as events related to the US War on Terror came to dominatePakistan’s security situation, the conflict that began at birth betweenIndiaandPakistangave way to something approaching a semblance of peace.
Nowadays, the 59 kilometer Muzafarrabad-Chakothi road, severely damaged by the devastating earthquake of 2005, is being rehabilitated, remodelled and upgraded to provide a safer, comfortable and quality route to people anxious for family re-unions. The Frontier Works Organization (FWO) has completed 75 percent road of the construction work and is all set to finish the rest of the task by June 30, 2012.
Under the National Highway Improvement Programme (NHIP), the National Highway Authority (NHA) assigned the Muzafarrabad-Chakothi road project to FWO, in 2007 at the cost of Rs1649.649 million but was later revised to Rs4000 million.
An FWO official involved with the project, Col Faisal Jan, told Pakistan Today that river erosion, landslides, heavy rainfalls and the resultant damage to transport construction material heavily impaired the pace of construction. However, the worst damage to the road was caused by the overflowing theZilzalLakeas the road was unable to withstand the strong torrents of flood water and collapsed under the onslaught. In 2010, a flash flood caused the lake to overflow and submerged the under-construction road, collapsing all the retaining walls (built to hold back earth from river surface to road level). It also flattened the bridges and ruined ongoing construction work,” he added. After the situation was normalised, the project was redesigned and retaining walls were built from the level of the river bottom to the road level to prevent any future tragedy. He also explained the history and geography of theZilzalLake, almost 3.5 kilometre long and 350 feet deep, and how it was created after the earthquake of October 8, 2005 when a mountain slid into the valley, blocking the way of river and burying five villages underneath it near Chikkar.
The FWO over the last 44 years has been acclaimed for its construction of bridges, roads, highways and other huge construction projects all overPakistan. The famousKarakorum HighwaybetweenPakistanandChinawas this organisation’s first assignment.
The FWO has left its imprint, bringing prosperity to the utterly backward and forgotten areas from the sun-burnt plateaus ofBaluchistanto lush green dales of Swat and Chitral and from the deserts of Sindh to snow-capped Siachin.
Trade and Tourism
Muzafarrabad-Chakothi Roadis the sole route of the so-called Peace Bus, the Dosti Bus, which started operating between the AJK and the IHK few years back. Apart from being the means of physical contact between residents of the two Kashmirs, the road also facilitates tourism and trade.
Travelling along the Muzafarrabad-Chakothi Road, trucks from Pakistan cross the Chakothi Check post and enter the Indian side of Kashmir’s de facto border, the Line of Control (LoC), at Kaman post, some 120 kilometers (75 miles) north of Srinagar, India. Muhammad Haris, AJK trader says that fruits, kidney beans (rajma), honey, spices, walnuts and almonds are sent to Azad Kashmir while rice, spices, rock salt, dry dates and raisins are imported from there.
Thousands of tourists that frequent AJK travel through theMuzafarrabad-Chakothi Road, which provides the path to many captivating locations including Subri, Ghari Dopatta, Chakar, Hattian Bala and Chinari.
It is also marked by a small white steel bridge beneath which flows the shimmering River Jhelum, winding its way between two ranges of hills competing amongst themselves in scale and beauty. It also provides access to theSubriLake, created very famously by a cloud burst over the surrounding hill during 1975, located eight kilometres from Muzaffarabad.
Since the road serves as a major link from Azad Jammu & Kashmir to the Indian heldKashmirand is also lone ground connection to LoC,Muzafarrabad-Chakothi Roadhas strategic importance and with its completion, the army supply line is expected to be improved in a big way..
Mr Yaseen, an FWO engineer, said that one of the positive facets of the project was the usage of bio-engineering techniques to keep strata along the road stable to prevent massive land sliding. “Each month two environment reports by independent consultants are prepared to keep the project environment-friendly,” said he. According to him, since it was a World Bank funded project, environmental concerns have to be factored in strictly.
“Bio-engineering is the use of vegetation, either alone or in conjunction with civil engineering structures, to reduce instability and erosion on slopes. It should be a fundamental part of the design and construction of all roads in the hilly areas, primarily because it provides one of the best ways to armour slopes against erosion,” said he. And it was relatively low- cost as it made use of local materials and skills, and also providing livelihoods. Bio-engineering techniques include stone-pitching, check dams, brush layering, retaining wall, shrub planting and tree and bamboo planting.
“In the process, grass seed is spread on to the slope, armouring the surface. Alternatively grass is hand-planted in lines across the slope. The lines protect the slope and catch debris. Angled lines planted by hand may also help to drain the surface, but catch little debris. Wood cuttings are laid in lines across the slope, usually following the contour, in particular configurations. These form a strong barrier, preventing the development of rill, and trap material moving down the slope.