M A I N   N E W S

Bus passengers bridge the divide
A new chapter in Indo-Pak ties, says Manmohan Singh
Prashant Sood And Agencies

The Prime Minister of occupied Kashmir, Sardar Sikandar Hayat Khan, greets an Indian Kashmiri on arrival at Chakothi, on the Line of Control, about 58 km south of Muzaffarabad
The Prime Minister of occupied Kashmir, Sardar Sikandar Hayat Khan, greets an Indian Kashmiri on arrival at Chakothi, on the Line of Control, about 58 km south of Muzaffarabad, on Thursday. — Reuters photo

Kaman Post/Srinagar, April 7
In a path-breaking step, the divide that has kept apart the people of Jammu and Kashmir was bridged today with the start of bus services across the Line of Control after 57 years.

At 1.45 p.m., 30 passengers of the bus from Muzaffarabad, capital of Pakistan-occupied Kashmir (PoK), took what Prime Minister Manmohan Singh described as a "small but significant step" by crossing a "Peace Bridge" straddling the LoC into the Indian territory in the Kashmir valley. Nearly three hours later, 19 Indians crossed over the same bridge into PoK.

It was an emotional moment for the passengers, mostly of the pre-Partition generation, from both sides when they walked on the "Peace Bridge" and crossed over to each other's territory defying militant threats.

Setting the stage for closer ties with Pakistan, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh today flagged off the historic Srinagar-Muzaffarabad bus service (Karvan-e-Aman) to establish a direct link between the two sides of Kashmir across the Line of Control.

He was joined by UPA Chairperson Sonia Gandhi in flagging off the bus service. Dr Singh and Ms Gandhi waved a sky-blue flag from a podium at Sher-e-Kashmir Stadium here to signal the start of the bus service. The passengers, seated in two buses, waved to the assembled gathering amid drizzle as a band played music.

Security arrangements for the function had been tightened after yesterday’s attack by militants on the Tourism Reception Centre where the bus passengers were initially lodged.

In his speech, Dr Singh said India was ready to walk with Pakistan to create an atmosphere of peace between the two countries. “India is ready to hold Pakistan’s hand so that we can create an atmosphere of peace, specially to start a new phase of peace and prosperity in Jammu and Kashmir in which people of the state can be full participants,” he said.

The Prime Minister said he was proud to inaugurate the bus service that would fulfill the wishes of lakhs of people. He said the road that was lying closed for over five decades had opened at last. “It will re-establish old ties and help families unite.”

Describing the opening of the Jhelum Valley road as “a small step in a long journey,” he said it would not have been possible without Pakistan joining hands. “Without the consent of the Pakistan Government, specially its President Pervez Musharraf, this door would not have opened.”

Dr Singh said the two governments had shown that they cared for sentiments of their people. He said that though the path ahead was laden with difficulties, the two governments would be able to tackle all problems in a spirit of friendship.

Referring to the promises made by him during his last rally in the city in November 2004, Dr Singh said several steps had been taken to create avenues of employment. He said the state’s Plan for 2005-06 was Rs 4200 crore of which 90 per cent was grant from the Centre. He said quality power would reach all villages of the state by 2005.

Dr Singh referred to progress on hydel projects in the state including the Baglihar project. The Prime Minister said apart from giving employment to 14,000 women in new aganwadi centres, the state will have five new battalions of the Indian Reserve Police. He said 20 per cent to 40 per cent vacancies in certain central forces had been kept for the residents of Jammu and Kashmir and some other parts of the country.

Dr Singh said the Asian Development Bank had sanctioned a loan of Rs 1,900 crore for improving civic amenities in the state. He hoped that the “small step” of starting the bus service would further strenghten the growing ties with Pakistan. The Prime Minister praised the Army for finishing the work on the road before time.

Ms Gandhi, in her remarks, referred to yesterday’s attack on the Tourismm Reception Centre where the bus passengers had been lodged. Praising the passengers for their courage to go ahead with the journey despite threats, Ms Gandhi said they had faced challenges bravely. She said the state had suffered violence as there were elements who were against peace.

The Congress President said the bus service was an attempt to connect hearts and its value can never be understood by those who believed in breaking hearts. Referring to her family’s links with the Valley, Ms Gandhi said she was as closely connected with the state as Jawaharlal Nehru, Indira Gandhi and Rajiv Gandhi.

She said people in the state still felt the pain wrought by the Partition in 1947 as families got separated.

Ms Gandhi hoped that the opening of Jhelum Valley road would bring about a transformation in the relations between India and Paksitan.

Soon after their arrival at the Stadium, Dr Singh and Ms Gandhi met the passengers individually. The passengers later took their seats in two state roadways buses. The buses left with 21 of 29 passengers who had been issued permits for travel. Jammu and Kashmir Chief Minister Mufti Mohammad Sayeed, PDP chief Mehbooba Mufti, Union Ministers Natwar Singh, Ghulam Nabi Azad and Mani Shankar Aiyer, National Conference chief Omar Abdullah and Congress general secretary Ambika Soni also greeted the passengers.

Earlier, flagging off the bus from Muzaffarabad, the Prime Minister of PoK, Sardar Sikandar Hayat Khan, said “our brave people are going to Srinagar despite the attack there and I ask the Indian Government to provide protection to our people”.

Meanwhile, a complete shutdown was observed in Srinagar and across the valley in response to the general strike call by four militant outfits who had warned the prospective passengers against boarding the bus.


Pak passengers overwhelmed

Kaman Post, April 7
Words failed to bring out their emotions as a group of 30 passengers from Muzaffarabad in PoK crossed into the Indian soil after a historic bus journey that re-united people divided by Partition.

“I am really happy,” said an overwhelmed middle-aged man belonging to the post-Partition generation as he crossed the freshly-painted white “peace bridge” into India.

The first group of passengers, mostly elders, were received warmly by Jammu and Kashmir Chief Minister Mufti Mohammed Sayeed and his Deputy Mangat Ram Sharma besides the Army and civilian officials.

It was a touching sight as an old woman on a wheelchair led the visitors, who became emotional as soon as they reached this side of Kashmir. One of them bent to kiss the soil and several of them could be seen with moist eyes.

Echoing similar feelings, another passenger thanked the governments of India and Pakistan for starting the historic service that stood suspended for the past 57 years.

A big hoarding on this side of the LoC displayed Iqbal’s famous poem, “Mazhab nahin sikhata apas mein bair rakhna (religion does not teach enemity)”.

“I am really happy. My father migrated from Baramulla in 1949. It would be the first time since then that I will meet my blood relations,” a passenger said before being whisked away by security personnel.

Another visitor Sikander said he was happy about the service as he would be able to meet his relatives after decades. — PTI

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