Vol. 5 Num 479 Fri. September 30, 2005  

India, Pakistan agree on new bus route
Peace moves to continue

India and Pakistan Wednesday agreed to start a bus service in October linking two cities on either side of their only border crossing as part of an ongoing peace process, an official here said.

The agreement came after two days of talks in the Indian capital. It will be only the second bus service crossing India and Pakistan's international border.

"The trial run of the Lahore-Amritsar bus service being operated by both sides will take place in the second half of October 2005 with a view to starting regular bus service in the first half of November 2005," Dilip Sinha, a joint secretary at the Indian foreign ministry, read from a joint statement.

In April, India and Pakistan agreed on the first bus service to link divided Kashmir in almost 60 years as part of a peace process begun in January 2004.

But the service, which crosses the ceasefire Line of Control separating the Indian and Pakistan zones of the Himalayan state, has been opposed by some separatist groups as well as by Islamic rebels fighting Indian rule in the disputed region.

The Lahore-Amritsar bus, covering 45 kilometres (28 miles), will link the two countries via the only international land crossing at Wagah in the state of Punjab, divided between India and Pakistan at partition in 1947.

A bus service linking New Delhi and Lahore, originally started in 1999 by former prime minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee but suspended after a 2001 attack on India's parliament by suspected Pakistan-backed militants, was restarted in July 2003.

The two sides also said Wednesday they would hold further talks on a proposed bus service between Amritsar and the Pakistani town of Nankana Sahib, the site of a Sikh shrine near Lahore.

The bus services are part of broader efforts by nuclear-armed neighbours India and Pakistan to normalise relations after coming to the brink of war after the parliament attack.

Both sides agreed in January last year to enhance economic, transport and cultural links while working to resolve a dispute over Kashmir, the cause of two of their three wars since independence.

An analyst said the latest confidence-building measure was important for people affected by the hostility between India and Pakistan whose leaders held talks, seen as inconclusive, this month in New York on the sidelines of the United Nations General Assembly.

"One cannot say that this is a great leap forward but such people-to-people contacts are perhaps as important as the other steps India and Pakistan have initiated to improve relations," said Rajendra Dayal, a political analyst at Delhi University.

"And if you want to add momentum to such cultural links, then greater economic activity like higher volumes of trade through these transit routes should be allowed by the two countries which will also endorse their commitment to peace," he said.

"And the bottom line here is that divided families of the two Punjabs, who suffered during our three wars, will benefit by this."