Perils And Opportunities
8 April 2005
Karachi: Just how perilous the journey to durable peace between Pakistan and India is has been vividly brought home by Wednesday's attack on a passenger building in Srinagar where the first Kashmiri travellers for the bus to Muzaffarabad were billeted. The assault is described as the work of militants, who were successful in breaching security at the heavily guarded complex; how is not yet clear. Two of the attackers were killed, but fortunately there were no casualties among the passengers. Both the services to Muzaffarabad and Srinagar crossed over yesterday without further trouble, although the sound of some still unexplained firing was heard when the bus for Azad Kashmir was about to leave. The dangers that threaten the new service should not be underestimated, but its troubled start should not be allowed to cloud the historic significance of the reopening of the Kashmir link after nearly 60 years. This is the first concrete manifestation of repeated declarations by leaders in India, Pakistan and Kashmir that they want the LoC to become a line of peace. It goes to the credit of General Pervez Musharraf and Dr Manmohan Singh that they cut through bureaucratic resistance and brushed aside administrative hurdles to enable the buses to run. The humanitarian aspect of the event should not be overlooked, which was palpable in the emotional scenes witnessed as a handful of divided families were allowed to meet. It is important that despite all the threats and risks, both sides should persist with and expand travel links between the two parts of Kashmir, which will be one of the surest ways of bringing the people of Kashmir to centre stage in the effort to normalize Indo-Pakistan relations. At the same time, such gestures cannot be a substitute for a determined political effort to tackle the Kashmir problem and other knotty issues that divide Pakistan and India. Kashmiri leaders have welcomed the bus link, but they have also emphasized that this should not be allowed to deflect attention from the need for a just and durable Kashmir solution. The Kashmiris have suffered erroneously all these years. The people of the Valley have been practically under siege for nearly six decades, suffered constant violations of human rights and suppression of civil liberties and seen their economic life crippled. If no other twists are discovered, the attack on Wednesday could well be seen as symptomatic of Kashmiri rage at being ignored in the normalization process. The goodwill that is bound to be generated by freer travel and interaction should be built upon to establish a political dialogue between Kashmiris as well as between Kashmiri leaders on the one hand and the governments of Pakistan and India on the other. New Delhi should overcome its disinclination to talk to the APHC, which in turn should seek to reason with the more militant groups of Kashmiris to give negotiations and peace a chance. Because of domestic compulsions on both sides and developments internationally, an opportunity of a lifetime has presented itself to the people of Kashmir and the people of India and Pakistan to live in friendship and cooperation. It should not be missed.