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Another rail link with Pakistan on the anvil
Girja Shankar Kaura
Tribune News Service

New Delhi November 25
A day after India and Pakistan agreed to continue the peace process, a second rail link between the two countries was announced today as part of further confidence-building measures.

In a major announcement External Affairs Minister K Natwar Singh said that there was a proposal to start the rail service between Khokhrapar in Sindh to Munnabao in Rajasthan from the Gandhi Jayanti day (October 2) 2005.

It would be the second rail link between the two nations after the Lahore-Delhi link which was started some years ago. The rail link between Khokrapar and Munnabao would prove to be a another boon for the people of the two countries and help further improve the relations between them.

Addressing a press conference here to basically outline the achievements of the United Progressive Alliance (UPA) government’s in the field of external affairs in the last six months, Mr Natwar Singh also said that the visiting Pakistan Prime Minister Shaukat Aziz had favoured exploring more bus links in addition to the proposed Srinagar-Muzaffarabad service.

Observing that his government had put behind a ‘reactive policy’ with Pakistan, he said ‘‘We are engaged in a sustained and comprehensive dialogue process from which we will not be deflected by transient developments and often contradictory pronouncements.’’

Mr Natwar Singh also announced that Foreign Secretary Shyam Saran would visit Pakistan on December 22 for talks with his Pakistani counterpart Riaz Khokhar on the composite dialogue process between India and Pakistan.

He said the two foreign secretaries would also discuss various issues connected with the launching of the Srinagar-Muzaffarabad bus service.

Prior to this, senior officials of the two countries would hold technical-level talks on the bus service in New Delhi on December 7.

Mr Singh said the leaders of the two countries would also meet in Dhaka on the sidelines of the SAARC summit in early January. He said he himself would be paying a bilateral visit to Pakistan in February.

Starting of the Khokrapar-Munnabao rail link from the Gandhi Jayanti day would be of significance to both the countries. Both India and Pakistan had already held technical-level talks over the Khokrapar-Munnabao link. The delay for the start of the rail service was only due to the time sought by Islamabad. New Delhi had proposed the starting of the rail service as rail tracks already existed but were lying unused.

Mr Natwar Singh said that Railway Minister Laloo Prasad Yadav had a meeting with his Pakistani counterpart Mian Shamim Haider and told him that India was fully prepared to operationalise the rail link. He, however, added that there was some work pending at Pakistan end since they had a meter gauge. ‘‘We hope to start the service on October 2, 2005,’’ he said.

Islamabad, incidentally, also wanted time to put in place the infrastructure that would be needed to continue the rail links between the two stations. It would not only involve the setting up of immigration and customs infrastructure but also that of the security agencies.

The route was frozen in 1965 following the Indo-Pak war.

On the other hand, India and Pakistan were also already considering more bus links which could be started from Jammu and Kashmir to the Pakistan-occupied Kashmir (PoK) and to Pakistan also. These include the Jammu-Sialkot bus link besides those between Poonch and Rawalkot. Another bus link was being considered between Kargil and PoK.

Mr Singh also touched on growing relations with the USA, sustained engagement with Russia, China and the European Union.

He recalled the suggestion made by him six months back that the Sino-India model be adopted by India and Pakistan to develop their relations. ‘‘Why not have such a model for Indo-Pak relations ?” he asked stressing that while the boundary issue was being discussed by the two countries, this had not come in the way of bilateral trade which would touch $12 billion by this year-end.

He said talks could continue on Jammu and Kashmir and other issues, implying that the two sides could tap the vast economic and trade potential for mutual benefit.

Observing that the Pakistani leadership had categorically stated that it was not unifocal, he said they had conveyed their readiness to discuss all issues in a spirit of friendship. ‘‘This is a good change and we welcome it,’’ he said, adding there was a tremendous potential to increase bilateral trade from the existing level of $400 million.

In regard to the Indo-US relations he said that US President George W Bush and Secretary of State-designate Condoleezza Rice had expressed their desire to visit India at an early date.

Accepting Prime Minister Manmohan Singh's invitation to visit India during their maiden meeting in New York in September, President Bush had stated that he would certainly like to travel to New Delhi ‘early’ in his second term in office, he said. 

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