18 February 2005
The News International
Islamabad: The landmark agreement between Pakistan and India to allow bus travel across the otherwise thorny line of control indeed reflects seriousness of the two South Asian nuclear neighbours to attain durable peace in the region. While the accord is undoubtedly a welcome sign that will open further opportunities for Islamabad and New Delhi to cement their newly found amity, it has also allayed the fears of setbacks on the peace front that had cropped up after the failure of the two countries to resolve their differences over the Baglihar Dam. That the peace process is well on track and moving in the right direction is certainly heartening. Rather unexpected against the backdrop of tensions that had developed over the past couple of months over the dam controversy, the LoC opening to the Kashmiris, Pakistanis and Indians can be dubbed as one of the major breakthroughs that the two countries have ever achieved in their interactions since their creation in 1947. The ultimate beneficiaries will be the Kashmiris who will now be able to re-unite with their families on the wrong side of the artificial line in the disputed valley. The growing connections between people and politicians of Kashmir will also yield positive inputs to the peace process, perhaps putting it on a fast track. The suffocating status quo that had shrouded the Kashmir issue has finally broken, making it easier for the two governments to talk more comfortably on issues like trade. It is indeed interesting that the government dignitaries and officials of the two countries are working in a spirit of compromise, heeding each other's genuine concerns after decades of rigidity and belligerence that only strengthened the conservative forces on both sides of the border at the expense of popular aspirations for peace. The agreement on bus travel and more measures being promised to soften the border also show that the two countries have the capacity to resolve their differences if they get down to working with sincerity. It is bilateralism that seems to be winning this time. It is now the responsibility of the two governments as well as the people of India and Pakistan to build on the good sense that is prevailing. Any measures like indulgence in arms shopping or investments in threatening military technology may only lead to fears and tensions that could spoil the atmosphere of congeniality. The road ahead is still long and arduous. It will take careful manoeuvring to take the two countries to the destination of peaceful co-existence and sustainable peace.