April 2005 News

PM: Ready To Hold Pak Hand

8 April 2005
The Times of India

Srinagar: Defying the chill of a militant-sponsored bandh and heavy rain, two marigold-bedecked buses on Thursday trundled down the road to Muzaffarabad to restore links across the Line of Control for the first time in 58 years. Flagged off by Prime Minister Manmohan Singh in the presence of UPA chairperson Sonia Gandhi, foreign minister Natwar Singh and Jammu and Kashmir chief minister Mufti Mohammed Sayeed, the two buses carrying 21 passengers were hailed as a 'peace caravan'. The moment was indeed big in symbolism and possibilities. A hoarding overlooking the launch venue at the Sher-e-Kashmir stadium said it all: pictures of Pakistan President Pervez Musharraf and PM Manmohan Singh with Sayeed in the middle speaking of a 'vision of J&K being the bridge of friendship' between the two countries. The blackened hulk of the official complex, gutted in a terrorist attack on Wednesday, served as an uneasy backdrop to the journey of hope. But flags of Sayeed's People's Democratic Party and the Congress tricolour flew together from the posts around the stadium. A PDP sign reminded onlookers that Muzaffarabad was only 170 km away and that there was an urgency to raze the 'wall of hatred'. 'We are ready to hold Pakistan's hand to usher in a new era of peace and prosperity,' said Singh. For Sonia, it was all the more a happy development since the Nehru-Gandhis traced their roots to Kashmir. Both the PM and Sonia assailed the terrorist attempt to derail the peace process disregarding the popular sentiments. They were confident that more such routes between the two parts of Kashmir could be opened to normalise relations between the two countries. As the two offwhite-green airconditioned coaches, with number plates reading JK02Y0315 and JK01Y0529, passed through the shade of the majestic Chinar trees, nostalgia thickened the air. With the leaders harping on the futility of war as a means of finding solutions, the metaphor of a wall being razed down by a people's collective will acquired a new meaning. Hope was raised of families, on either side of the divide, reuniting and lost faces coming home. The PM pointed out that 'wars have never solved any problem' and called for giving peace a chance. Despite a palpable fear of terror's lurking shadows and the morning downpour, the popular mood was in favour of buses running across the divide.


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