PEACE PROGRESS on the INDIAN CONTINENT
Kashmiris hope bus service takes road to peace
India Daily, 8th April, 2005
Kashmiris hailed on Friday a historic bus service between Indian and Pakistani Kashmir as a concrete step towards resolving the vexed territorial dispute and said militant separatists should not be allowed to disrupt it.
Analysts praised India and Pakistan for what they said was the determination of the nuclear-armed rivals to go ahead with the bus launch on Thursday, the first to connect the two Kashmirs in nearly 60 years, despite threats from militants. But they said New Delhi and Islamabad - who have fought two wars over Kashmir - still had a long way to go to untie the Kashmir knot, as they had yet to show much inclination to move from entrenched diplomatic positions despite the hype and celebrations over the transport link.
"I was crying with joy when I saw television pictures of the bus crossing over to this side," Pakiza Carrim, 25, a sociology student at a university in Srinagar, said. "Kashmiris have won half of the battle." "Now, it is the sincerity of the two countries that will make a difference to the future of Kashmir. I wish this bus runs daily," she said, a day after the first fortnightly service rolled into Srinagar from across a military ceasefire line.
Nineteen Indian Kashmiris, mostly elderly, on Thursday defied separatist threats and crossed a "Peace Bridge" across a military line that divided them for more than half a century, hours after 31 Pakistanis walked into the Indian side for an emotional reunion with relatives. Srinagar and Muzaffarabad, capital of Pakistani Kashmir, erupted into spontaneous celebrations as the first passengers broke down with joy over seeing their dear ones, many of them for the first time. "It is a great step towards peace," said Adbul Hamid Bhat, a businessman in Srinagar. "
Kashmir is a more than 50-year problem and things will not change overnight. Some elements will oppose it for their vested interests but let's go ahead." Newspapers in India and Pakistan were also upbeat. "The determination shown by India and Pakistan to go ahead with the bus service in the face of terrorism is praiseworthy," Pakistani daily The News said in an editorial on Friday. "It will send an unambiguous message to the shadowy groups that there will be no bowing to terrorism."
Peace Bus Opens New Chapter in Kashmir History
By Susanne Koelbl, 11th April, 2005
A peace bus crosses the cease-fire line in Kashmir -- a symbol of peace on the highway.
The first bus service between Indian and Pakistani-controlled regions of Kashmir in nearly 60 years is supposed to be a first step towards peace there. Terrorists, however, have already tried to destroy it.
Dark, heavy rain clouds hung over the Dal Lake in the Kashmir Valley, but they did not stop Haji Abdul Salam Bhat from waiting for customers in his yellow water taxi, or shikara, as these oblong gondolas are called in Srinagar, the capital city of the Indian part of Kashmir. His customers are tourists, who only come to the lake because it's one of few places in the disputed region where an uneasy peace reigns, largely because there are always armed soldiers present. This morning, there are more than two dozen on guard at the docks, more than usual.
They were there in larger numbers because 118 kilometers to the west, on a border where the Indian and Pakistani-controlled regions of Kashmir come together and the two nuclear powers have been engaged in an uneasy standoff, something remarkable was happening.
Rathore Dagamal, a 55-year-old doctor from the Pakistani city of Muzaffarabad, walked across the Aman Setu bridge, which spans the tributary of the Jhelum River separating the two regions. When he reached the Indian side, he knelt and kissed the earth, while tears streamed down his face. He had not stood on this ground for 40 years nor had he seen his sister in all that time.
The road to this bridge, on which 31 Pakistanis and 19 Indians traveled by bus last Thursday, is the result of efforts by both the Indian and Pakistani governments to establish peace in the disputed region. The two sides have been negotiating since February of last year -- a small miracle in itself. The cross-border service, however, is not just about buses and family reunifications, it's also about cooperation in the fields of terrorism, water rights and drug trafficking. Military authorities from both countries talk with each other regularly on the phone, every Thursday.
It's a small, but important start.
The peace buses are popular among Kashmiris and many on both side of the dividing line have expressed hope that they too can take the bus to visit their neighbors, families and friends on the other side. For months delegations worked out the details about travel documents passengers would need when they crossed the Line of Control, the border officially separating the two regions. In order to avoid a protracted legal fight, they agreed upon requiring a simple travel authorization. In the future, the twice-monthly bus service should allow 40 Indians from Srinagar to travel to Muzaffarabad, the capital of the Pakistan-administered part of Kashmir, and 40 Pakistanis to take the reverse route, to Srinagar.
Dr. Dagamal was one of the lucky ones on the first bus, which drove him into a homeland he lost long ago. Tens of thousands of people lined the route the bus drove, a human chain which stretched from the border town of Uri through the town of Baramulla until it reached Srinagar. The crowd was soaked to the bone by the day's heavy rain, but they wanted to see those they've come to call the "Pakistanis," their brothers and sisters they had not been allowed to see for decades.
Cries of joy echoed over the "Srinagar-Muzaffarabad Highway," the asphalt road patched up by the Indian government that makes up the route. The Indian Kashmiris cheered, sang and draped colorful banners over the route that said "Welcome, Welcome."
The joy experienced by those reunited families which had been separated for decades was deep, heartfelt and very human. Still, the so-called peace buses are also undeniably a political production which serves the interests of both India and Pakistan. President Pervez Musharraf of Pakistan wants to show the United States that he is serious when he talks about ending the long-running conflict in Kashmir, thereby helping fight international terrorism. Those are the kinds of words that score him points with the White House.
At the same time, the modest cross-border route is actually little more than a symbolic gesture, since the president doesn't want to create too much friction with his fundamental adversaries at home. Pakistani nationalists have no desire to accept Kashmir's Line of Control as a permanent border. They want the entire region, a post-colonial accident arising during the partition of British India in 1947, to officially become part of the Islamic Republic of Pakistan.
India, however, which controls the largest part of the region, is willing to recognize the Line of Control as a permanent border. This secular and democratic country, with a population of more than a billion, does not want to lock itself into a proxy war with Pakistan. It is much more interested in concentrating on its rise as a regional superpower and focusing its attention its commercial rival China. Moreover, India is pursuing, like Germany, a permanent seat on the United Nations Security Council. For that to happen, Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh needs the support of the United States.
For India, the buses are an effective symbol of its pursuit of higher goals. Indeed, the buses in the service of peace, the tears that ran down the faces of the first passengers, the reunification of families after so many years of separation -- it was as if PR professionals and security forces had staged the whole thing.
The event captured the attention of much of the world, and other forces took advantage of that to get their own points across. On the day before the first bus set off for Pakistan, two militants launched an attack on the tourist center in Srinagar, where passengers were being sheltered for their own safety. According to a speaker of the militant groups involved in the attack, the bus service represented a "sellout of the blood of martyrs."
Indian soldiers surrounded the building and engaged in a one-hour gun battle with the attackers. The building caught fire and flames quickly engulfed the roof, sending choking, black smoke into the sky. Six people were injured, but the passengers were taken to safety, unharmed. The militants died in the fire fight.
The attack reflected the still-dangerous reality of the region, where despite the overtures of peace, an end to the bloody conflict that has claimed the lives of at least 40,000, is not yet in sight.
On Thursday, Mufti Mohammed Sayeed, the Chief Minister of Kashmir, received the first visitors from Pakistan at a reception on a decorated bank of Dal Lake. Salam Bhat sat in his gently rocking water taxi under the protective canopy and waited for customers. No one came. Maybe, he said, they had been scared off by the armed soldiers on the dock.
India has opened the first stage of a spectacular railway that will connect Indian-administered Kashmir with the rest of the country.
India opens rail link to Kashmir in bid to bring a sense of unity
Independent News, 14th April 2005, by Justin Huggler in Delhi,
When finished, the line will cross the vast barriers of the Himalayas and the Pir Panjal mountains, include a tunnel six miles long through the mountains, and a mile-long bridge 1,300ft high over Chenab river. The first section, which does not even cross the higher mountains, already includes 158 bridges and 20 tunnels.
India is desperate to make Kashmir feel a part of India. Opening the first section, from Jammu to Udhampur, the Indian Prime Minister, Manmoan Singh said it was "yet another step to strengthen the relations between India and the people of Kashmir". Despite being ruled by India for more than 50 years, most Kashmiris do not view themselves as Indians. They refer to leaving their valley and heading south as "going to India".
Last week, the first bus service started between Indian and Pakistani Kashmir. India and Pakistan may be in the midst of their most fruitful peace talks in years, but they are still locked in rivalry over Kashmir. Although most Kashmiris want independence, India and Pakistan are unwilling to stop claiming Kashmir.
Last week Kashmiris were glued to televisions, watching the India-Pakistan cricket series. But in Indian Kashmir, they were all cheering on Pakistan.
Which is where the railway comes in for India. Few things have united the vast and disparate land of India as effectively as its extraordinary railways, built under British colonial rule. You can get almost anywhere in India by train, from Assam in the north-east to Kerala in the south.
To a large extent, the railway has given India a sense of unity. Now the government is hoping it can bring the same to Kashmir.
Part of Kashmiris' sense of isolation lies in the woeful infrastructure India has built there. The Kashmir Valley is connected to India by a road, and when it was blocked by snow this year the valley was cut off for days. Electricity was cut too, and Kashmir ran short of fuel for heating in its worst winter for decades.
But with daily killings, reports of Indian security forces torturing detainees, and thousands of Kashmiris disappearing after being detained, the chances are that it will take more than a train to win Kashmiri hearts and minds.
KASHMIR: the Bus diplomacy challenged but peace process well established
See India Daily, 6th April, 2005, Sudhir Chadda
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