CHIKOTHI CHECKPOINT, Pakistan — As a cold drizzle soaks this mile-high mountain redoubt, Pakistan Army Maj. Mohammed Najeeb peers far across the steep rocky gorge through high-power binoculars.
There, perched high above raging rapids and a bombed-out bridge, an Indian sentry can be seen peering back from his own blockhouse and bunker complex.
"This is the crucial point," said Najeeb. "This is the old invasion route for Kashmir."
For now, despite fears that a new Indo-Pakistan war could erupt, a tense military standoff continues on the U.N.-monitored cease-fire line that has divided the region, officially known as Jammu and Kashmir, since 1949.
Two-thirds of the region were integrated into India, over Pakistani protests, as the Indian state of Jammu and Kashmir. The other third is under Pakistani control, administered as two dependencies: Azad Kashmir, which lies to the west of the Indian state, and the Northern Areas.
Three times India and Pakistan have gone to war, and three times their armies have clashed on the old British road that twists and climbs through rugged snow-capped mountains and swirling clouds for 240 miles from Islamabad in Pakistan to Srinagar in India.
The cease-fire cut the road in half here. Sometimes a U.N. observer with a white flag crosses the swaying wooden footbridge. Sometimes, too, shots ring out.
Today, all is tranquil on the so-called "line of control" except for the whistling wind and the bitter emotions that have brought two enemies conceived in crisis back to the brink.
"This line is like the Berlin Wall," said army Lt. Abdul Saleem, gazing at the river that marks the line below. "It divides families, father from son, mother from daughter."
The divisions are especially deep now. In recent weeks, thousands of Indian army troops have flooded into Jammu and Kashmir to crush a popular uprising led by separatists and Muslim fundamentalists. Dozens, perhaps hundreds, have died.
"They mishandled womenfolk," charged Sardar Abdul Qayyum Khan, president of Azad Kashmir. "They shoot children. They shoot demonstrators. They search houses and look at the belongings."
News of the uprising in India has fueled a war hysteria among fellow Muslims and fellow Kashmiris in Pakistani villages along the border.
In Chikothi village, several miles back from the line, about 75 men gather in a muddy street to chant anti-Indian slogans. Black flags of protest wave from ramshackle storefronts. Graffiti extol the Kashmiri cause.
"We had three wars with India, but Kashmir was not decided," said Shazulla Awan, a bearded businessman. "So now we want to force them to settle the issue."
He nods as Makata Latif, a fellow shop owner, says he wants to lead his fellow villagers across the border to help the militants that Pakistan calls freedom fighters and India calls terrorists.
"Our brothers are being killed across the border," Latif said. "If they kill me, it doesn't matter. I am happy to make the sacrifice."
"My children will fight as I fought in 1947--for Kashmir," agrees Mier Abdul Latif, 60.
Indian guards killed at least one youth and wounded a dozen others when they tried to cross the border south of here at Sialkot on Monday. Here, Pakistani officials say, they will stop the protesters for their own safety.
"We won't let them cross," said district officer Sardar Mohammed Rahim Khan. "We'll use force if we must. Because if they cross, they'll be killed."
Religious fear and prejudice also inflame the dispute. Islamic Pakistan feels a special kinship with Indian Kashmir since about 65% of the Indian state's population is Muslim. It is India's only state with a Muslim majority.
"Kashmir is our homeland," said Nazir Durrani, a government clerk in Muzzafarabad, capital of Azad Kashmir. "In India, the Hindus occupy it. When the Muslims try to free Kashmir, the Hindus fight us. But it is not a Hindu state. It is a Muslim state."
"All of them want to join Pakistan," said Rahatullah Khan, chief secretary of Azad Kashmir. "Ethnically, culturally, religiously, they are the same people."
It remains, however, an Indian state--and it is likely to remain one.
"How long can we stay united if we allow one religion to secede?" asked J. N. Dixit, the Indian ambassador in Islamabad. "We have Muslims, we have Hindus, Sikhs, Jains, Buddhists and Christians."
Political and military leaders in both countries say they are trying to avoid war. U.N. observers say no troop movements or special preparations have been seen. Officers are taking scheduled holidays.
So for now, people like Durrani, 29, must wait. His family was divided during the 1948 war. He has waited all his life to meet his own brother, who got left on the Indian side.
"I've never even seen him," said Durrani.
Drogin, chief of The Times Manila Bureau, is on assignment in Pakistan.