Kashmiris await bus service
5 October 2004
Srinagar: The leader of held Kashmir's ruling party made a passionate call on Tuesday for an early restoration of road links between the two parts of the disputed state even if it meant doing away travel documents for Kashmiris travelling across the Line of Control (LOC). Mehbooba Mufti, head of the People's Democratic Party (PDP) of Chief Minister Mufti Mohammad Sayeed, made the call in her first talk to a group of Pakistani newsmen as it arrived in Kashmir Valley on the second stage of six-day landmark trip to the region. Ms Mufti, who is the daughter of the chief minister and heads the ruling party, also called for taking Kashmiris into confidence in confidence-building measures (CBMS) being taken by both India and Pakistan as part of a newly- resumed peace process between the two nuclear rivals. A proposed bus service between Srinagar and Muzaffarabad is held up by an argument between Islamabad and New Delhi over what sort of travel documents the passengers from the two sides should carry. India wants them to carry Pakistani or Indian passports for travel across the LOC. But Pakistan, which thinks such an arrangement could be taken an implicit recognition of the LOC as an international border, wants such travellers should either carry UN documents or permits issued by local authorities on either side as was practice until the mid-1950s. We should throw open our roads. If we can to open our roads then perhaps we cannot solve the Kashmir issue, said the outspoken Ms Mufti, who is the only woman to lead a major Kashmiri political party. 'We don t accept it as an international border,' she said about the UN-supervised LoC. 'If I had a solution, I would be sitting in Muzaffarabad now,' she said when pressed to give her choice and added' I think you let us come and go with documents.' Ms Mufti talked to the Pakistani journalists at Anantnag town near Srinagar, where she had been waiting to greet them for more than three hours on their arrival after a long bus journey from Jammu. She said bus services should be started not only between Srinagar and Muzaffarabad but also between Jammu and Sialkot and other places through which Kashmiris could travel. She said the bus travel between the two sides of Kashmir would help their economies besides helping Kashmiris to meet their relations on either side. She particularly referred to the prospect of Kashmir Valley's famous apples to find a good market in Azad Kashmir and Pakistan. 'Let the crates of our apples to Muzaffarabad and we should get money for them not guns,' she said in a reference to a repeated Indian allegation against Pakistan that it gives weapons to Kashmiri militants fighting Indian rule. Ms Mufti also offered at least one major Kashmiri groups to join unconditional talks New Delhi has offered to the All Parties Hurriyat Conference alliance of anti-India political and social groups. She said Hizbul Mujahideen should have no hesitation to join such a dialogue while the organization had twice observed periods of ceasefire. The Pakistani group arrived in Srinagar at night to an enthusiastic welcome from Kashmiri journalists after spending two days in Jammu on a trip sponsored by the South Asian Free Media Association, a non- governmental offshoot of the peace process started after an agreement in January between Pakistan President Pervez Musharraf and then Indian prime minister Atal Behari Vajpayee.