Talks To Reopen Kashmir Highway
31 December 2003
New Delhi: Families divided between Indian and Pakistani Kashmir for more than half a century were offered the chance yesterday of being able to travel across the de facto border which splits the Himalayan territory. In a further sign of a possible rapprochment over the disputed territory, India proposed to hold talks with Pakistan in January to open the main highway, blocked since the first war between the two countries in 1947. This connects the capital of Indian Kashmir, Srinagar, with Muzaffarabad, the capital of Pakistani Kashmir. The move comes before a key regional summit starting on Sunday in Pakistan's capital, Islamabad, which the Indian prime minister, Atal Bihari Vajpayee, is expected to attend. Thousands of families were divided when the line of control, the ceasefire line bisecting Kashmir was drawn up in 1947. Tensions between the two countries in the last 50 years have meant that Kashmiris could only visit their relatives a few miles away if they obtained visas, a difficult process. They often had to travel via the Gulf. 'This measure is important in that it will give Kashmiris tangible evidence of freedom, in terms of travel, which they are currently denied,' said Prem Shankar Jha, a political commentator. 'In doing so it will change the atmosphere in the two Kashmirs.' New Delhi also offered to open another bus route through Kashmir and lift travel restrictions on Pakistani diplomats in India. The overtures came after a telephone call between Britain's foreign secretary, Jack Straw, and his Indian counterpart, Yashwant Sinha. The two countries downgraded their ties two years ago after India blamed Pakistan for coordinating a guerrilla attack on its parliament.