India Drops Passport Need For Kashmir Bus - Media
15 February 2005
Islamabad: India has dropped its insistence that passengers on a proposed bus service between Indian and Pakistani Kashmir carry passports, a condition that has prevented its launch, a newspaper said on Tuesday. The report came a day before Indian Foreign Minister Natwar Singh is to hold talks with Pakistani leaders in Islamabad to push a peace process marred by differences and a lack of progress in their decades-old territorial dispute over divided Kashmir. 'After giving up its stand on visas, it's learnt that India is now willing to drop its insistence for passport as an identity document,' the Indian Express newspaper said quoting sources in the Indian Foreign Ministry. It said the decision had been conveyed to Pakistan through 'back channels' and would be pushed forward by Singh. Indian officials were not available to comment. The bus service linking Srinagar, the main city of Indian Kashmir, and Muzaffarabad, capital of Pakistani Kashmir, was proposed as a major step to build trust between the nuclear-armed foes who nearly went to war in 2002. However, the transport link between Kashmiris divided by a military ceasefire line has been stuck due to wrangling between New Delhi and Islamabad over the nature of travel documents to be carried by passengers. Pakistan has refused to accept India's terms that passengers carry visas and passports. Islamabad fears that this move could end up accepting New Delhi's territorial claim over its part of Kashmir and also recognise the half-century ceasefire line as a de facto border. Although New Delhi had given up its insistence on visas and passports, a new complication had emerged because Islamabad was now unwilling to accept any kind of Indian government stamp on travel permits and would agree to a Jammu and Kashmir government stamp, the Indian Express said. Analysts do not expect a major breakthrough during Singh's visit because both sides hold entrenched positions and are expected to move slowly despite Pakistan's impatience over the pace of progress. Both countries claim Kashmir in full and have fought two of their three wars over the Himalayan region. India accuses Pakistan of aiding an Islamic separatist revolt in Kashmir in which about 45,000 people have been killed since 1989. Pakistan denies the charge and says the insurgency is an indigenous freedom struggle.