April 2004 News

Kashmir bus talks unlikely before Indian elections

11 April 2004
The Dawn
Qudssia Akhlaque

ISLAMABAD: There are strong indications from across the border that the twice- postponed technical-level talks between Pakistan and India on the Srinagar-Muzaffarabad bus service may be put on hold till elections in India are over. India's elections are scheduled to be held in four stages from April 20 to May 10. While there is no official word from New Delhi, reports in the Indian media point to the shelving of talks till elections are over because of preoccupation of Indian politicians with their campaigning. The Indian daily The Telegraph hinted on Thursday that the bus talks had been postponed because it was considered a complex issue that required massive preparatory work. 'Considering the complications involved, the talks have been postponed,' the daily said. 'They are likely to take place only after the elections are over and a new government is in place in Delhi,' it added. 'The ball is now in India's court,' sources in the foreign office said, pointing out that this time too it was on New Delhi's request that the talks had been postponed. The talks were scheduled for April 8-9 but were put off less than 24-hours before they were due to begin. Earlier, they were slated for March 29-30. Announcing postponement of the talks on Wednesday, Pakistan's foreign office and Indian ministry of external affairs issued identical statements, almost simultaneously, saying the talks had been put off after mutual consultations. No reasons were cited. It is learnt that the request to defer the talks was communicated to the foreign office through the Indian High Commission in Islamabad on Wednesday afternoon. Apparently, the reason given was that certain issues had to be resolved. Although the official announcement said fresh dates would be worked out through diplomatic channels, new dates have to be proposed by the Indian side given the fact that it sought the postponement. So far, there are no signs of that happening soon. The proposal of starting a bus service between Srinagar and Muzaffarabad was put forward by the Indian government last year. Subsequently, Pakistan proposed dates for the technical- level talks.


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