PEACE GETS A CHANCE BY M.J. AKBAR
In a single day of talks with President Pervez Musharraf, Prime Minister Shaukat Aziz, foreign minister Khurshid Mehmood Kasuri and the official delegation, Mr K. Natwar Singh achieved agreement on a gas pipeline that will change the eco-politics of the region; a bus route that was part of Kashmiri fantasy - Srinagar-Muzaffarabad bus service, which will begin from April 7, there will also be bus services between Amritsar and Lahore, and to religious places like Nankana Sahib. The Khokrapar-Munnabhao rail link will be reopened by October 2005.
PEACE GETS A CHANCE BY M.J. AKBAR
There is a law of Indo-Pak relations: nothing has happened until it has happened. So much scalding tea has spilled between the cup and the lip (the Agra summit being the most famous instance) that only the very brave predict good news. A sub-law indicates that when things begin to happen, everything seems possible.
In a single day of talks with President Pervez Musharraf, Prime Minister Shaukat Aziz, foreign minister Khurshid Mehmood Kasuri and the official delegation, Mr K. Natwar Singh achieved agreement on a gas pipeline that will change the eco-politics of the region; a bus route that was part of Kashmiri fantasy; CBMs on nuclear missiles that should be common sense but were uncommonly difficult to push through. As if this were not enough, he reopened the consulates in Mumbai and Karachi and even cleaned up the self-generated cricket tour mess. "The tour will go through," said foreign secretary Shyam Saran at his formal press briefing at the Marriott Hotel here on Wednesday evening. The two cricket boards will later pretend that they reached a decision.
Besides the Srinagar-Muzaffarabad bus service, which will begin from April 7, there will also be bus services between Amritsar and Lahore, and to religious places like Nankana Sahib. The Khokrapar-Munnabhao rail link will be reopened by October 2005.
This is the first bilateral visit by an Indian external affairs minister since 1989.
One indication of the scale of Mr Natwar Singh’s achievement can be gauged from the point that the last people who came on vehicles from Muzaffarabad to Srinagar were the raiders who started the war in the third week of October 1947. As is well known, they did not quite reach Srinagar, being stopped by the Indian Army at the edge of the airport before being pushed back to what is known now as the Line of Control, or LoC.
It is such a history that has necessitated the complex procedure that will govern the bus route in Kashmir. Any Indian wishing to take the Kashmir bus from Srinagar will have to obtain a document from the regional passport officer in Srinagar, which will be handed over to the Pakistani authorities at the LoC checkpoint. This application will be processed and returned. Those given permission will be allowed to travel. In other words, any Indian taking the bus will travel on the basis of an Indian document. A mirror procedure will operate on the other side. This is a check to ensure that any person considered suspect by either side will not be permitted to cross over.
Mr Natwar Singh began the day with a call on President Musharraf that extended beyond the officially allotted time. The mood at the meeting was realistic, according to one official. This might indicate that they did not waste time on excessive pleasantries. As Mr Singh noted in a statement: "No doubt we have differences between us. This is only normal given the history and complexity of our relationship. However, as leaders, 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." Mr Kasuri, noting that discussions on the "core issue" of Jammu and Kashmir had taken place, expressed "satisfaction" at "the overall improvements in atmospherics between the two countries. We have taken positive steps that augur well for the future of bilateral relations."
The gas pipeline, recently cleared by the Indian Cabinet, was a highlight of Wednesday’s achievements, and will leave petroleum minister Mani Shankar Aiyar free to pursue a grand idea that links India to Central Asia through Pakistan, Afghanistan and Iran.
Referring to the controversy over the Baglihar hydel power project at his press briefing, Mr Shyam Saran said Pakistan’s taking the matter to the World Bank was "premature" as there had been "a degree of convergence" at the bilateral meeting of experts. There was no question of Pakistan either being "flooded" or denied water, he added, saying that India did not believe that this project violated the Indus Water Treaty in any way.
The two sides also agreed on an early Saarc summit in Dhaka. Prime Minister Manmohan Singh will visit Pakistan after that. India and Pakistan have returned to the fast track that seemed to have got mislaid some weeks ago.
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