Fresh Talks To Cover More Bus Routes, Siachen
7 May 2005
New Delhi: India has announced a new series of talks with Pakistan, including meetings next week over the launch of new bus services and later in May over several long-running boundary disputes. 'Technical level talks' on a proposed bus service between India's holy Sikh city of Amritsar and Lahore in Pakistan would get underway on Tuesday in Lahore, external affairs ministry spokesman Navtej Sarna said here on Thursday. The two sides would also be considering a possible service from India to the Sikh shrine of Nankana Sahib in Pakistan, Sarna said. The Indian and Pakistani defence secretaries would meet in Islamabad May 25-26 for talks on the disputed Siachen glacier, the scene of a bloody clash between the neighbours in 1987, the spokesman said. India and Pakistan are engaged in a raft of talks on confidence-building measures at the same time as seeking to settle their festering dispute over Jammu and Kashmir. India's announcement of new talks followed a visit to New Delhi last month by Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf during which the countries declared their 15-month-old peace process was 'irreversible.' Measures to build closer ties are opposed by rebels waging a 15-year-old battle against New Delhi's rule in Kashmir. The rebels see the moves as a bid to sideline the separatist cause by allowing greater people-to- people contact in the divided region. In a joint statement last month in New Delhi, Musharraf and Prime Minister Manmohan Singh pledged to find a solution to the dispute over the Himalayan glacier of Siachen. They also vowed to re-start efforts to end differences over maritime boundaries in the strategic Sir Creek marshlands off India's western Gujarat state. Sarna said the neighbours would hold two days of talks starting on May 27 in Islamabad on the Sir Creek row. Islamabad would also host talks next week between Indian coastguards and the Pakistan maritime agency to build better communications, he said. 'This is one of the confidence-building measures,' Sarna said. India last month published a slate of 72 proposals - some old, some new - to spur trust between the countries. The two countries are also seeking to work out a way to withdraw forces from the 21,000ft Siachen glacier, the world's highest battlefield. Musharraf said on his Indian visit the neighbours should end their dispute over the icy wasteland, where extreme cold has killed more soldiers than enemy fire, so scientists can research effects of global warming on the glacier. India and Pakistan refuse to disclose how many troops they have on Siachen, a deployment that is hugely costly for both sides. But military sources believe Pakistan has 3,000 soldiers on the glacier and that India has 7,000. Thursday's announcement of talks on the proposed bus services coincided with the third run of the trans-Kashmir bus linking Srinagar and Muzaffarabad, capital of Pakistan-ruled Kashmir. Two buses arrived in Srinagar and another two reached Muzaffarabad. The route was checked before Thursday's service and police and soldiers manned the entire 118km stretch of road between Srinagar and Kaman Post on the ceasefire Line of Control. 'Before the buses set off, the road was searched for hidden landmines and boobytraps by bomb squads and sniffer dogs,' police said. The green and white buses that left Srinagar carried 37 passengers on the four- hour journey to the heavily militarised ceasefire line, police there said. The buses from Muzaffarabad had 41. The buses take passengers up to the Line of Control but do not cross the divide. Passengers walk across a bridge over the Jhelum river and board new buses to reach the respective capitals. Militants and hardline separatists fear the bus service signals a move to a 'soft border' and could sideline the separatist cause by allowing greater people-to-people contact. Since the launch of the service, more than 100 militants have been killed in Kashmir in scores of clashes with troops. More than 50 civilians and security officials were also killed in the same period.