April 2005 News

PM Flags Off Kashmir Peace Bus

7 April 2005
The Indian Express

Srinagar: Prime Minister Manmohan Singh flagged off the historic Srinagar- Muzaffarabad bus, a day after an attack by militants trying to derail the popular peace-building move. In freezing weather, thousands of people crowded into the heavily guarded stadium in Srinagar from which the bus was to leave. Many more people lined up outside as Manmohan Singh and Congress party chief Sonia Gandhi greeted the 24 passengers due to take the inaugural bus into Pakistan, before taking their places on a raised and covered dias. Most of the passengers were elderly men with white beards and skullcaps, and women with scarves over their heads. Security in Kashmir was the tightest for years, including during the 2002 state election. Threats by militants to attack the bus have created a deep sense of unease but also defiance among Kashmiris determined to see the service succeed. Troops swarmed the bus route along National Highway 1A, deploying armoured cars and minesweeping teams. In Srinagar, soldiers and armoured cars guarded every intersection and checkpoints have been set up every few hundred metres. Just hours before the few dozen Kashmiris were set to head off for the trip over rugged and heavily forested Himalayan ranges, two gunmen stormed a compound sheltering passengers in Srinagar and set the main building ablaze. The militants were killed and six people were injured. All passengers are safe. As Indian and Pakistani leaders vowed not to be cowed, the United States described the attack as 'a wanton act of terror on a powerful symbol of rapprochement between India and Pakistan'. The 170 km (105 mile) bus link to Muzaffarabad in Pakistan represents a small concession for families separated by conflict since 1947 but also carries hopes of a big boost to a cautious peace process, a week before Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf travels to New Delhi for talks. 'We are absolutely prepared. We are safe, Inshallah (God willing) it will be a smooth journey,' a top Indian security official said. Indian television quoted Singh saying the Srinagar raid could not be allowed to jeopardise peace efforts. Pakistan condemned the attack and offered sympathies to the passengers. 'The bus journey is the journey of peace. The journey of peace will go forward,' Singh's spokesman, Sanjaya Baru, told reporters.


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