December 2004 News

Kashmiris Disappointed After India-Pakistan Talks

9 December 2004

Srinagar: Disappointment swept across Indian Kashmir on Thursday after India and Pakistan failed to agree on starting a bus service between the capitals of the divided Himalayan region, residents said. 'These two countries are playing with our emotions, they are both stubborn. We are really disappointed because expectations are very high,' Mushtaq Ahmad, a shopkeeper, told Reuters. Hundreds of Kashmiris had pinned their hopes on talks between the nuclear-armed rivals to try and resume bus services between Srinagar and Muzaffarabad, the capitals of Indian and Pakistani Kashmir respectively. But New Delhi and Islamabad differed on the nature of travel documents passengers would need to cross one of the world's most militarised frontiers after two days of talks which ended on Wednesday. More talks were needed, both sides said. Kashmiris said their hopes had been dashed. 'Last evening, my mother was in tears, she was ready to board the first bus and meet her brother across,' said Abdul Aziz, an engineer in Srinagar. India wants passports and visas, effectively recognising a ceasefire line as the border, while Pakistan and most Kashmiris want a less formal process or U.N. documents for the travel. 'It is an emotive issue for us and we have again been disappointed,' said Showket Ahmad, a government employee. The bus link between the two parts of Kashmir would be the single most important symbol that the South Asian rivals are serious about resolving decades of hostility. India and Pakistan have fought two of their three wars over Kashmir since both gained freedom from Britain in 1947. Indian Kashmir has also been torn by a separatist rebellion for 15 years and at least 45,000 people have been killed in the revolt. In the latest violence, two policemen were killed and three others were wounded on Thursday when Muslim rebels attacked a police camp in Pulwama district, a hotbed of Muslim guerrillas. No militant group has claimed responsibility for the attack. Guerrilla violence continues unabated in Kashmir despite a cautious peace process between India and Pakistan. SEPARATED FAMILIES The Muzaffarabad-Srinagar highway was the road down which Pakistani tribesmen invaded Kashmir in 1947 and it has remained closed ever since. Indian forces pushed the invaders back just across the town of Uri, in the Pir Panjal range, and the ceasefire line which was drawn up when hostilities ended became the effective frontier. Kashmir was divided and thousands of families were separated. One Kashmiri analyst said India's insistence on passports was at odds with its position that the entire state of Jammu and Kashmir, including Pakistani Kashmir, was part of India. 'There is a parliament resolution which says even the Pakistani part of Kashmir belongs to India. So stressing on passports for that part of Kashmir is a contradiction in the Indian position,' said Noor Ahmad Baba, head of Kashmir University's political science department. 'From that perspective, it is unfortunate. But the positive point is that the two sides have agreed to carry forward negotiations.' The 170-km (110-mile) road from Srinagar to Muzaffarabad runs parallel to the Jhelum river through snowcapped mountains and pine forests. But even if India and Pakistan agree to reopen it, the highway would need substantial repairs before a bus service could restart.


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