February 2005 News

Bus Service Across LoC

14 February 2005
The Dawn

Karachi: The current peace process will receive a major boost if the Srinagar- Muzaffarabad bus service gets going. The proposal has been hanging fire for quite some time over the mode of travel. Since Kashmir is a disputed territory, Pakistan obviously cannot accept visitors from across the Line of Control crossing over to this side on an Indian passport. The last Indo-Pakistan meeting in December failed to resolve this procedural matter. Islamabad and New Delhi would do well to look at it from the point of view of the Kashmiri people. Kashmir belongs to them, and the Line of Control has merely served to keep them divided. At present, a Kashmiri living in the Srinagar valley has to make a circuitous journey if he wants to visit his relatives in Azad Kashmir. He must first go to New Delhi to obtain a Pakistan visa and then fly to Karachi or go by bus to Lahore before travelling to Azad Kashmir. All over the world, people in disputed territories do not use passports. The crossings between North and South Korea and across the green line in Cyprus are monitored by the UN. Pakistan and India could do the same. The proposal to give Kashmiris permits instead of passports would mean the same hassle, since they would be required to take visas from the Pakistani and Indian high commissions in Islamabad and New Delhi. Instead, the Kashmiris prefer residence certificates from local administrations. This will enable them to cross the LoC without much bother. The two governments should look at it from a realistic point of view. Kashmiris have suffered a lot because of the division of their state and the raging insurgency. The process of normalization between Pakistan and India has served to change South Asia's geopolitical climate. The Kashmiris, too, have welcomed it, but they want to be associated with the dialogue process. They also legitimately desire to benefit from the current process and want to feel freer and happier. Travels across the LoC will lessen their hardships and create optimism about the future. Easy travel across the LoC will not resolve the Kashmir dispute, but it will most certainly constitute a major confidence-building measure between Pakistan and India.


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