M A I N   N E W S

Pak blocks road to Muzaffarabad
Says no to passport
Rajeev Sharma
Tribune News Service

New Delhi, December 7
The first ever technical-level talks between India and Pakistan on the proposed Srinagar-Muzaffarabad bus service, which began here today, made no progress at all, despite India showing a marked flexibility on its earlier insistence that passport and visa could be the only acceptable travel documents for the bus service.

The two-day talks that began this morning at Transport Bhavan here lasted just two hours. Diplomatic sources said though the talks would continue tomorrow, the meeting would be largely confined to hammering out a joint press statement to give a message to the international community that India and Pakistan continued to stay engaged in talks for improving bilateral relations.

For the first time, India today formally conveyed a formula for starting the Srinagar-Muzaffarabad bus service, saying it was willing to dump its insistence on visa for the bus passengers.

India today proposed that while passport would still be the basis, a local document like a certificate from the Resident Commissioner or District Magistrate would have to be used as an additional sheet on the passport.

Pakistan continued to be rigid in its stand, saying it wanted local identity papers to be recognised as the sole travel document.

The anomaly in the Pakistani argument was clear when the Indians asked whether they would recognise local identity papers as the sole travel document for travels between the two Punjabs and Rajasthan and Sind. The Pakistani answer was “no”, saying that travel across the Line of Control had to be seen from a different point of view.

For India, there was no difference in the status regarding external matters of any state of India, whether it was Punjab or Rajasthan or J&K, sources asserted.

Pakistan’s attitude to the proposed bus service was clear from the fact that it did not treat the talks as technical because the Pakistani delegation was crammed by Foreign Office officials.

Three of the four-member Pakistani delegation are from the Foreign Office, the DG (South Asia), Director (India) and the Director (Kashmir), while the fourth one is from the Ministry of Communication.

The very composition of the delegation makes it clear that Islamabad is looking at the bus service from a political perspective rather than as a means to facilitate people-to-people contact.

In contrast, the nine-member Indian delegation comprises of officials from the ministries of external affairs, home and transport. Besides, the Indian delegation also has officials of the Jammu and Kashmir Government.

It may be recalled that the last time these technical talks, which were scheduled to be held in Islamabad, could not be held because Pakistan declined to give visas to J&K Government officials.

Sources said Pakistan would never agree to a Srinagar-Muzaffarabad bus service because it was afraid that an easier movement across the LoC would lead to challenging Pakistan’s false propaganda on the state.

Besides, the bus service would also help improve the ambience and reduce the sense of conflict.

Moreover, if Islamabad were to agree for the bus service, it would open up a Pandora’s box of more inter-LoC bus services like Kargil-Skardu, Poonch-Mirpur and Jammu-Sialkot. From the Pakistan point of view, this would make the Kashmir issue disappear into thin air and virtually make the LoC a de facto international border.

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