August 2004 News

The Kashmir bus was my idea, claims former US ambassador

12 August 2004
The Daily Times
Wajahat Ali

Washington DC: Even as the idea of running a bus service between Srinagar and Muzaffarabad is being debated in India and Pakistan without any breakthrough so far, few people know who actually mooted it.This does not disturb former ambassador John W McDonald, chairman of the Institute of Multi-track Diplomacy, a think tank based here. He thinks one should not get into the business of peace building for the sake of recognition.But he fondly recalls the year 2000 when he first thought of the plan while addressing a group of people at a refugee camp in Muzaffarabad, capital of Azad Kashmir.Mr McDonald shared his plan with them, telling them that he wanted to bring members of the divided families from Srinagar to Muzaffarabad so they could get together for the first time in five decades. He found many adherents to the idea in the audience. Back in Washington, the ambassador contacted the Indian and the Pakistani embassies to push the idea through. He recalls writing to the Indian prime minister and his external affairs minister, but says there was no response from New Delhi.He also approached Pakistan, this time addressing the president of the country. He wasn't disappointed. He was visited by then-Pakistan ambassador to the United States, Maleeha Lodhi, whom he describes as a 'terrific lady' who understood the concept from the beginning.Ms Lodhi was supportive of the idea and forwarded the proposal to the Pakistani president. Mr McDonald recalls getting a reply back and says the president 'loved the idea' and promised to raise it the next time he met the Indian prime minister.But he had no inkling if his idea would actually find its way into the track one agenda until he saw newspaper articles about it.He now believes the bus service will be launched, making itself 'the first sign of peace' between India and Pakistan.Mr McDonald, a former career US diplomat for forty years, says India and Pakistan are on the normalisation track because they are taking a 'broader view' of the situation. Kashmir, he adds, has been a damper on their economies, with 700,000 troops deployed in a region with a population of six million.He also agreed the two countries are under a lot of pressure from the US, the EU and 'maybe China'.


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