March 2005 News

Lists Of Kashmir Bus Passengers Exchanged

22 March 2005
The Dawn

Opi Post: Pakistani and Indian officials met along the Line of Control in Kashmir on Tuesday and exchanged lists of people hoping to travel on the first bus across the dividing line in 57 years. The meeting started exactly at 2pm (PST) under a canopy set up on the Pakistani side of the LoC in Chakothi sector, some 61 kilometres south of Azad Kashmir capital Muzaffarabad, at the opening of an under-construction bridge over a water channel that marks the dividing line in the disputed Himalayan region. Earlier, officials had said that the meeting will take place on the Indian-held Kashmir, but an AJK official told Dawn on Tuesday that the venue was changed on the request of the Indian officials due to the 'construction work on their side'. At the flag meeting, the only civilian official was Muzaffarabad deputy commissioner Liaquat Hussain, who was nominated by the AJK government as 'designated authority' for the purpose. Mr Hussain was accompanied by Pakistan army's local area commander Lt-Col Cheragh Haider and some other officials whereas the Indian side comprised four army officers, headed by Col Ghulab Singh Rawat. Mr Hussain handed over a blue folder carrying the application forms of 46 prospective travellers from AJK to Col Rawat and in return received a sealed yellow envelop that contained the application forms of 40 intending visitors from held Kashmir. The first buses between the two divided Kashmiri capitals are scheduled to run on April 7 with 30 passengers each on board. Officials say there will be two buses in a month from each side. As Mr Hussain and Col Rawat shook hands with each other, exchanged application forms, sweets and gifts and posed for the photographers, hundreds of soldiers and labourers continued their work on the bridge and the road on both sides of the divide. The journalists, who were allowed rare access to the site, were asked to leave the place soon after the photo session following which the two sides started formal meeting which lasted for more than an hour. 'The meeting was held in a very cordial atmosphere during which we exchanged lists and discussed the modalities for the bus service,' Mr Hussain told Dawn here. He said it would take a week's time to both sides to return the application forms, following which travel permits would be issued to the applicants. But, officials here hitherto seem to be clueless about a very important question: which authority would issue permits to the travellers from which side. When questioned, Mr Hussain said he could not divulge further details. 'I have been directed not to go public with what has been discussed between us.' During the flag meeting, AJK chief secretary Kashif Murtaza remained present at a nearby place. He later briefed journalists who had arrived from Islamabad on the historic happening at an army installation. However, Muzaffarabad-based newsmen walked out of the premises of the army installation in protest against what they alleged insulting attitude of some army personnel. Meanwhile, the public works department officials said the bus terminal to facilitate the travellers from held Kashmir would be ready for use before April 7. The terminal on the Indian-held side of Kashmir is barely 100 metres away from the LoC but the one in AJK is being built two kilometres before the LoC. 'It's because we could not find a big space close to the bridge,' secretary works Mir Bashir told Dawn outside the under construction terminal.


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