M A I N   N E W S

Bus to Muzaffarabad from April 7
Amritsar-Lahore, Amritsar-Nankana Sahib bus links also on the anvil
Rajeev Sharma
Tribune News Service

* Srinagar-Muzaffarabad bus service to start from April 7.

Travel will be by entry permit system for all nationals of both countries once identities are verified.

Application forms for travel will be available with the designated authorities in Srinagar and Muzaffarabad.

* India agrees to look at the gas pipeline from Iran through Pakistan subject to satisfaction of its concerns relating to security and assured supplies.

They agree to start a bus service between Amritsar and Lahore and also to religious places such as Nankana Sahib. Officials instructed to tie-up technical details immediately.

The two sides agree to have discussions on agreements on reducing risk of nuclear accidents or unauthorised use of nuclear weapons and preventing incidents at sea.

Both sides express readiness to start Khokrapar-Munnabao rail link from October this year.

Islamabad, February 16
India and Pakistan today took a giant step forward in normalising bilateral relations when they agreed to start a bus service between Srinagar and Muzaffarabad from April 7, 2005, and commence new bus services between Amritsar and Lahore and to agreed religious places such as Nankana Sahib.

Indians, Pakistanis and Kashmiris will be able to avail of the Srinagar-Muzaffarabad bus service on the basis of entry permits "once identities are verified". No third country citizens will be allowed to travel through this bus service, officials said.

Application forms for travel will be available with designated authorities in Srinagar and Muzaffarabad. In the case of India, the forms will be available from the office of the Regional Passport Officer, Srinagar only, under the aegis of the Ministry of External Affairs.

India looks upon the Srinagar-Muzaffarabad bus service in a stand-alone manner and a decision on humanitarian grounds which should not be seen to affect or change New Delhi's stated position on the issue of Jammu and Kashmir.

Accord on the New Delhi-proposed Srinagar-Muzaffarabad bus service was reached following intensive talks between the two country's Foreign Ministers, Mr K Natwar Singh and Mr Khurshid Mehmood Kasuri, here this afternoon. Mr Kasuri read out a Joint Statement announcing the decision.

Besides these bus services, a string of other decisions were taken by the two countries and announced by Mr Natwar Singh as follows:

(i) The two countries to look at a pipeline through Pakistan subject to satisfaction of Indian concerns related to security and assured supplies. (Mr Kasuri welcomed the Government of India's decision to treat the pipeline as a "stand-alone project".

(ii) The two Foreign Ministers instructed their officials that in the series of meetings between now and July, agreements be finalised on Pre-notification of Missile Tests, MoU between Indian Coastguards and Pakistan's Maritime Security Agency, and MoU between Narcotics Control Authorities.

(iii) The two countries to initiate discussion on agreements on (a) reducing risk of nuclear accidents or unauthorised use of nuclear weapons and (b) preventing incidents at sea.

Besides, the two Foreign Ministers agreed to consider further measures to alleviate the situation of civilian prisoners and apprehended fishermen.

Mr Natwar Singh conveyed to Mr Kasuri India's readiness to start the Khokhrapar (Pakistan) —Munabao (India) rail link from October 2005 and urged Pakistan to expedite their own preparations.

Moreover, the two countries said they were continuing with their efforts for early re-establishment of their respective Consulates-General in Karachi and Mumbai.

Mr Kasuri made the ground rules clear at the very outset when he announced that first he would read out the Joint Statement, then Mr Natwar Singh would read out his statement and after that he (Mr Kasuri) would read out his statement. He also stated that he and Mr Natwar Singh would not take any questions.

The fact that the two Foreign Ministers read out their separate statements clearly showed certain differences between them were unbridgeable. This was because India wanted to raise the issue of cross-border terrorism while Pakistan insisted on raising of several other issues which India did not agree to be made part of the Joint Statement.

In his statement, Mr Natwar Singh did not refer to the words “cross border terrorism” but he made a pointed reference to the January 6, 2004 Joint Statement which dwelt at length on the issue of terrorism.

Mr Natwar Singh addressed this aspect when he conceded that the two countries had differences. “No doubt, we have differences between us. This is only normal given the history and complexity of our relationship... It is incumbent upon us to find ways through which we can enhance trust and cooperation so that the differences can be addressed more productively.”

In this context, the EAM mentioned the first meeting of the Joint Study Group on Trade and Economic Cooperation at the level of Commerce Secretaries, scheduled in New Delhi on February 22-23 which will identify measures and areas for increasing bilateral trade.

Mr Kasuri made a sharp reference to the K—word in his separate statement (which India was not inclined to be included in the Joint Statement). He said: “We had discussions on the core issue of Jammu and Kashmir and have impressed upon the Indian government for an early and final settlement of the issue in accordance with the aspirations of the people of Kashmir.”

The Pakistani Foreign Minister expressed the hope that both countries will be able to move forward to promote strategic stability in South Asia. He added that Mr Shaukat Aziz had already instructed the Pakistani Railway authorities to expedite the early operationalisation of Khokhrapar-Munabao rail link.

Mr Kasuri made pointed references to Siachen issue, Sir Creek dispute and issues of civilian prisoners and detained children and said discussions were held on these subjects. He pointed out that the two sides also held discussions over the Baglihar and Kishanganga projects wherein he impressed upon New Delhi for an early resolution of the issues in accordance with the Indus Water Treaty.


Decision  on bus service hailed
Our Correspondent

Amritsar, February 16
The news of starting a bus service between Amritsar-Nankana Sahib has brought cheer among local residents. The bus service is likely to start from April 7.

Col J.S. Bal (retd), president, Rashritya Raksha Dal, a party of ex-servicemen, while welcoming the historical decision urged the government to issue visas from the city to strengthen the peace initiative in the right direction. He said the governments should not hamper the initiative by economising on the frequency of bus service but make it a daily facility.

Calling the decision as a first step in the direction of free travel on the pattern of the visa-free European Union, he said the passage would boom the economy, tourism besides fulfilling the longstanding demand of the Sikhs to visit holy shrines in Pakistan.

The bus service would enable citizens to attend festivals in both countries, opined Mr Charanjit Singh Gumtala, a former president, Amritsar Vikas Manch, an NGO. He appealed to the government for running more buses to connect important gurdwaras and temples.

The Damdami Taksal also welcomed the decision. Bhai Mokham Singh, a spokesman for the Taksal, said the demand of the Sikhs to freely pay obeisance at shrines in Pakistan had been accepted.

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