December 2004 News

Pak Delays Bus To Muzaffarabad

13 December 2004
The Daily Excelsior
B L Kak

Jammu: Shoot this down. Shoot that down. This exercise became unavoidable as the official delegations of India and Pakistan took up, in New Delhi, the crucial and controversial issue of reopening the Srinagar- Muzaffarabad road. The two-day talks, after their conclusion, were termed as 'cordial'. They were not friendly at all. This was borne out by the fact that New Delhi and Islamabad failed to reach an agreement on the first land route between Srinagar and Muzaffarabad. The development can, to an extent, affect, if not frustrate, efforts to translate into action New Delhi's scheme of opening the Jammu- Sialkot and Kargil-Skardu roads. The failure of the New Delhi take came at a time when the Government of India's strategy on Jammu and Kashmir was officially reiterated at home and abroad. The strategy includes promoting interaction with people of Pakistan. The Indian Government will work towards opening the Jammu-Sialkot, Uri- Muzaffarabad and Kargil-Skardu roads. And the Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA) did make it clear: 'This will help people-to-people contacts and open up trade'. On the eve of technical talks between India and Pakistan, Gen. Parvez Musharraf had publicly stated that he was ready to open 'three land routes' between the two Kashmiris to facilitate travel. Despite this, however, Pakistani delegation did not demonstrate flexibility as the talks began in the Indian capital. The technical talks concluded within hours on the second day without even the glimmering of a breakthrough. India was willing to dispense with the formality of visas and replace these with entry papers issued by the respective High Commissions, but will not relax its insistence on passports. Pakistan was adamant that passports cannot be used, and that documents issued by local authorities on both sides of the Line of Control (LoC) should suffice. India, on its part, seemed convinced that Pakistan 'is not serious' about opening the land route between Srinagar and Muzaffarabad, as the free movement of Kashmiris would further erode its projected status in Kashmir. The delegations of India and Pakistan met on the bus service armed with little more than variations of earlier proposals that both knew would be shot down by the other side. India wanted travellers from Jammu and Kashmir to PoK (Pakistan occupied Kashmir) to carry passports, and as a modification of its earlier stance, entry permits instead of visas issued by the respective High Commissions. Pakistan, on the other hand, wanted a mode of entry that could be taken to imply that Kashmir is a disputed territory where Indian sovereignty is not uncontested. Even as India made one significant concessions - issuance of separate travel permits instead of regular visas stamped on the passport - Islamabad was told in unambiguous terms that passports will be mandatory. At the same time, New Delhi also conveyed to Islamabad that the Government of India will continue to be cooperative and will expect Pakistan to realise that any further liberalisation of the documentation requirements can come at a later stage. Two factors are quite important in this connection. In the first place, a greater convergence between the two countries on the status of Kashmir is called for. Secondly, the two countries have to ensure continuance of cooperation between them. And if the bus service to and from Muzaffarabad was seen as a step towards creating a mechanism of cooperation, why has the service been held hostage to arguments about whether Kashmir is a disputed territory? If Pakistan's Foreign Minister, Khurshid Mehmood Kasuri, was reported to have said that the problem (of reopening the land route) will be overcome with the 'necessary political will' on both sides, little is known about Islamabad's next move. Why should Islamabad except New Delhi to accept Pakistan's proposals or viewpoint on allowing human and vehicular traffic on the Srinagar-Muzaffarabad road? And why should India accept Islamabad's proposal favouring the Cyprus model? The proposal is seen as a slightly more sophisticated variation of Islamabad's insistence that travel between two Kashmirs should be facilitated by entry permits signed by the local authorities on either side. The Cyprus model was brokered by the United Nations allowing travel from Turkey and Greece on the basis of special entry permits. New Delhi is not to blame for rejecting such a proposal, in view of the fact that the situation and requirements in Jammu and Kashmir are totally different from the one that obtained at the time of UN brokering the Cyprus model. Islamabad is unwilling to accept passports and visas as travel documents on the ground that the Line of Control is 'a temporary line and not an international border'. India's Minister for External Affairs, Natwar Singh, told the Lok Sabha, after the failure of talks on reopening the Srinagar- Muzaffarabad road, that he hoped that the hitches between India and Pakistan on the proposed bus link would be solved. Natwar Singh was not incorrect when he warned that India-Pakistan relations were 'accident prone' and, hence required to be handled with patience and restraint. New Delhi, at the same time, does not want Islamabad to be unfair and unrealistic to expect India to compromise mode at this juncture. India, according to Natwar Singh, has offered as many as 72 confidence - building measures to Pakistan. Pakistan, according to the available indications, does not want to take small confidence building measures until India has veered over to its position. Islamabad cannot ignore or under - estimate who other factors. First, Pakistan cannot, and should not, prevent India from performing its role of identifying who comes and who goes after the bus service is allowed to be operational on the Srinagar- Muzaffarabad road. Second, Islamabad cannot stop India from exercising the right not to code the sovereignty question to Pakistan. Gen. Parvez Musharraf may continue to make emotional statements on Kashmir. What is required, if he really and sincerely wants the Indo-Pakistan friendship, is his unbiased directives to official involved in the nitty-gritty of negotiations.


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