April 22, 2005
KASHMIRI PEACE BUS: 'MOTHER OF ALL CONFIDENCE BUILDING MEASURES'
** Indian dailies contend bus service lends momentum to the peace process.
** Pakistani writers see a chance to unite families and reestablish normalcy.
** Commentaries applaud the "positive trend" but label exessive optimism "premature."
** Outlets agree "militants...succeeded in alienating" their supporters by attacking the first bus.
'New maturity in relations between the nuclear rivals'-- India's press declared that re-opening of the Srinagar-Muzaffarabad road "would not have been possible had there not been a marked thaw in Indo-Pak hostility." While centrist Azad Hind declared that "both countries are moving towards sorting out all the outstanding issues between them," the centrist Statesman warned India "should press its advantage, as well as stay on the right side of popular opinion." The right-of-center Pioneer opined that "addressing the human aspect of the Kashmir problem will eventually lead to...progress on its political settlement."
Focus on the 'human angle'-- Pakistani papers, like independent Din, noted that "for the present moment, it is the human angle of the issue we should keep in mind, the political aspect is only secondary." Center-left Dawn urged both parties to "persist with and expand travel links" in order to "normalize Indo-Pakistan relations." Qatar's semi-independent Gulf Times declared the bus service "stands for normality" and will allow people to "live their lives as they wish, free from the restrictions imposed by political hostility."
'Symbolic gesture' or 'political gimmickry'?-- Germany's business-oriented FT Deutschland suggested that the bus route in Kashmir "cannot be seen as the beginning of a quick breakthrough," calling it a "symbolic gesture," but nevertheless applauded both governments for being "clever and realistic." Various Indian papers complained that the peace bus initiative "reflects shortsighted political gimmickry rather than real strategic thinking." Pakistan's Urdu-language Nawa-e-Waqt was pessimistic, saying the bus service is "premature" as long as India continues its "human rights violations in occupied Kashmir." In a similar vein, India's right-of-center Samna echoed Pakistani discontent when it said "the caravan of peace cannot succeed until the caravan of sacrifice of Indian soldiers is stopped."
Managing the 'fear factor'-- After a grenade attack on the initial bus, global outlets concluded that "militants have succeeded in alienating those whose sympathy is essential to their cause" while celebrating that "this was the first time that New Delhi and Islamabad condemned the same terrorist attack." Indian papers pointed out the "absurdity" and the patent "irony" of those "claiming to fight for Kashmir liberation" while "threatening to kill Kashmiris who want to meet with lost relatives." Thailand's moderately-conservative Bangkok Post said that "if the people want it and governments listen, there seems little chance that violence or terrorism will overcome the spirit of peace in the air."
Prepared by Media Reaction Branch (202) 203-7888, email@example.com
EDITORS: Patricio Asfura-Heim
EDITOR'S NOTE: Media Reaction reporting conveys the spectrum of foreign press sentiment. Posts select commentary to provide a representative picture of local editorial opinion. Some commentary is taken directly from the Internet. This report summarizes and interprets foreign editorial opinion and does not necessarily reflect the views of the U.S. Government. This analysis was based on 52 reports from 9 countries over April 7-14, 2005. Editorial excerpts are listed from the most recent date.
INDIA: "The Srinagar-Muzaffarabad Bus: A Mobile Coffin?"
Sudarshan Upadhyay held in right-of-center Gujarati-language Gujarat Samachar (4/12): “There is a saying that ‘open minds automatically open the gates to the heart.’ This has been exemplified by the recent inauguration of the bus service between Srinagar in India and Muzaffarbad in the Pakistan-Occupied Kashmir. This is a key step by India and Pakistan that will give positive momentum to the ongoing peace process between them. Although this bus service will encourage people-to-people contacts, there is a constant fear of this service falling prey to terrorist attacks. After overcoming a number of bureaucratic hassles and obstacles, and despite terrorists’ warnings to blow it up on its route, the bus finally rolled out on the schedule date (April 7, 2005), with people cheering the bus on its entire route. However, considering the looming terrorist threat, the future of the bus service seems to be uncertain. A single terrorist attack can halt the bus service and derail the dialogue process between India and Pakistan. The safety of the bus is therefore the responsibility of both the neighbors who need to ensure that the terrorists are not successful in their evil designs. The fundamentalists and other rogue elements will not miss a single opportunity to foment trouble and create fissures in the already vexed relations between India and Pakistan. The ‘Aman Setu’ (Peace Bridge) erected by India and Pakistan to facilitate the movement of people across the Line-of-Control through the bus service, has ushered in an era of renewed hope and peace. Both the nations need to work on building many more ‘Aman Setus’ for a better future.”
"The Next Moment”
M.J. Akbar wrote in the centrist Asian Age (4/10): "Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and President Pervez Musharraf created such a moment with the bus between Srinagar and Muzaffarabad, and around it lie a range of opportunities and options that will shape the dialectic as well as the content of the India-Pakistan relationship.... On the eve of the first bus to Muzaffarabad, militants attempted to sabotage the journey by the most brutal means conceivable.... The militants have succeeded in alienating those whose sympathy is essential to their cause. They should have considered a second outcome. This was the first time that Delhi and Islamabad condemned the same terrorist attack, and meant it .... Only those who have been divided truly understand the meaning of partition ... Could there be regress? Of course there could. Could this burst of optimism degenerate into another swamp swarming with the usual dangers? Yes again, if Delhi and Islamabad treat the bus through Kashmir as a crowning achievement rather than the beginning of yet another difficult but no longer hopeless phase in their relationship. It is not entirely fortuitous that President Musharraf has sought the excuse of a cricket match in Delhi and Prime Minister Singh has agreed to host him within less than a fortnight of the start of the bus. That will provide the opportunity to set the parameters of the next phase of the relationship. There has to be a sustained and sustainable dialogue on Jammu and Kashmir, as well as pace in the eco-political equation. India cannot shy away from Kashmir and Pakistan cannot shy away from trade. There are creative opportunities awaiting thought. Imagination and initiative have set up a gas pipeline that both India and Pakistan have defended against an American objection. There is much thinking to do on subjects like nuclear doctrine, and the objective use of strength to protect our common economic interests. History awaits the next moment.”
“Pakistan's Hour Of Triumph”
The pro-BJP right-of-center Pioneer noted (4/10): “It was with a mixture of amusement and alarm that I watched the launch of the Srinagar-Muzaffarabad bus service last Thursday. Amusement was caused by the pathetic attempt to turn the event into a Congress tamasha, with a section of the media playing the role of cheerleader. Alarm was warranted by Pakistan's runaway success in making India look desperate to score brownie points with the West as well as the evident lack of enthusiasm in the Valley over this latest confidence-building measure. That we had to put all passengers on the first bus in virtual house arrest and then almost forcibly dump them inside the bus did not speak well about the level of excitement among Kashmiris here. To make matters worse, four frightened passengers disembarked after traveling barely 4 km out of Srinagar on the pretext of ill health. On the other hand, all scheduled passengers from the Pakistani side traveled across the LoC into India ... Of all these Pakistani diplomatic triumphs, what really hurts is the equation of Mr. Manmohan Singh with one Sikandar Hayat Khan. Islamabad did not do this covertly. It was known that the PoK "PM" would be the Indian PM's counterpart in Muzaffarabad. Should Manmohan Singh not have changed his mind once this was announced? My concern is that the hype we generated over the bus has weakened India's bargaining position, shown us being desperate to "resolve" the Kashmir problem, and severely diluted our position on the illegitimacy of the so-called Azad Kashmir Government. In the process, we have further downgraded the elected regime of Jammu and Kashmir. Much as the Mufti may appear enthused by the bus, I am certain he could not have enjoyed the irrelevance he was reduced to during the inaugural ceremony. And Mehbooba Mufti cannot be exultant over Islamabad's denial of permission for her to travel in a second bus ... Dr Farooq Abdullah often flies off the handle and says things that are not quite germane to the issues at hand. But this time, he was bang on in decrying the hype over the bus that invited a terrorist outrage and, worse, enabled the Pakistani regime to outdo India on every diplomatic score. The infuriating part of it is that India has an uncanny ability to shoot itself in the foot in its thoughtless disregard for history each time an artificial atmosphere of bonhomie is generated with Pakistan. We crawl when mere bending would suffice.”
“Bridge Over Troubled Waters"
Khursheed Wani editorialized in the pro-BJP right-of-center Pioneer (4/10): "The start of the bus service between Srinagar and Muzaffarabad has rekindled hopes of reunion in hundreds of divided families in Jammu and Kashmir.... Observers believe that addressing the human aspect of the Kashmir problem will eventually lead to a significant progress on its political settlement. There seems to be an agreement between India and Pakistan to carry forward the process, despite the difficulties coming its way...India won a brownie point at the international level when it managed to make provision for a small opening in the LoC, which has been completely fenced to stop ingress of militants. Perhaps this is the reason why a majority of the people in Kashmir are sceptical over the bus issue while the separatists, both on the political and the military front, are nervous.... The bus diplomacy is a setback to separatists and seems to have overrun their rhetoric on Kashmir. A crucial question lurking in the minds of the Kashmiris is whether the bus is dependable and safe. It might have encouraged many when the government went on with the launch of the bus service despite a lethal suicide attack by the militants to frighten the organizers and passengers. But will there be similar enthusiasm for the forthcoming journeys, with the buses scheduled to roll every fortnight? What is the guarantee that the buses will not be the target of attacks by militants? ... How will the government ensure that there will be passengers for the forthcoming journeys? Observers maintain that the importance of opening the Srinagar-Muzaffarabad Road is actually symbolic. They suggest that 80 percent of the divided families live in the border districts of Rajouri, Poonch and Doda, and people find it cumbersome to travel to PoK via Srinagar. "It is better to open the Jammu-Sialkote and Poonch-Rawlakote Roads for these divided families," said Maqsood Ahmad, a schoolteacher who has many relatives across the border.”
“New Delhi-Srinagar's 'Trust Deficit'"
Firdous Syed commented in the nationalist Hindustan Times (4/10): "The Srinagar-Muzaffarabad bus created history. But it will be a historical blunder if the even it is wasted in the media glitter it attracted. For New Delhi, the occasion provides an opportunity to build on. Developments in Kashmir during the past few months have been encouraging ... The “Mother of all CBMs’-the reopening of Srinagar-Muzaffarabad Road would not have been possible had there not been a marked thaw in Indo-Pak hostility. In Kashmir, militancy of incident’s as well as public support, Infiltration level has dropped considerably. Economic activity is reviving and more importantly, people are adapting to the new and immediate realities of life.... On its part, New Delhi needs a paradigm shift in its policy vis-avis Kashmir. It needs to understand that receding violence does not mean receding alienation. Even if violence fizzles out completely, the alienation will not go.... The biggest danger lies in terms of the jehadist cult that is growing in Kashmir. An intervention is needed here. There are two ways of intervention. One is to engage the political secessionist leadership so that it becomes a meaningful partner for peace. Unfortunately, despite the gravity of the sentiment this section has proved itself incapable to think creatively. The most potent intervention will be to engage the masses. Electoral processes have their-own limitations and can’t be the only type of intervention. There is a need to mobilize the masses, the youth in particular. And for this, a shift must be made from the security paradigm to the people paradigm. The security apparatus is required to maintain order but it can’t mobilize masses. Although order is needed for the mobilization of public sentiment. It is not an end in itself. Not tackling the psychological vacuum is criminal. Public mobilization does not necessarily mean political concessions. Mobilization will come from loving and caring. India should not behave as a victorious hegemon and Kashmiris that they have been defeated ... India’ can’t tell Kashmiris that they don’t have any option now. Democracies don’t behave like this. The Government of India needs a serious process of reconciliation in Kashmir, which has to be initiated by New Delhi. With all resources at its command, it has to and it can win people back. And to win back people, it should not resort to the short-cuts of symbolism and cheap publicity stunts. It has to be something that leaves a lasting impression on people’s minds.”
“Don't Miss The Bus"
Masood Hussain wrote in pro-economic-reform Economic Times (4/10): “Whether it is the outcome of the ‘visinary statesmanship’ of the leadership from the two sides, as chief minister Mufti Sayeed says, or ‘a product of heroic and defiant struggle of the people of Kashmir’, as Sajjad Gani Lone puts it, the resumption of traffic on the Jhelum Valley Road is a ‘path-breaking’ initiative and ‘mother of all CBMs’.... The JVR re-opening is expected to offer many benefits indirectly ... Even lawyers in Srinagar said the JVR re-opening was ‘untimely and inconsequential’. They feel vindicated by foreign minister K. Natwar Singh’s statements that PoK is part of India and Delhi is ready for everything except re-drawing of maps. Pakistan, however, has constantly rejected that it was prelude to change in the LoC Status. They even advised Prime Minister Showkat Aziz not to flag off the bus. After issuing a threat to make the bus a ‘coffin on wheels’, four anti-bus militant outfits carried out a series of attacks on the day when Prime Minister Dr. Manmohan Singh flagged the ‘Caravan of Peace’ in Srinagar ... But given the trauma of divided families, threats are expected to fizzle out once the bus becomes a routine. There were instances of defiance too. The chief minister sees it as an initiative that has the support of the people on either side of the LoC. And his stand got vindicated when tens of thousands of people lined up all along from Slamabad to Srinagar to greet the PoK passengers despite rains, storm and pitched darkness. Some of them were carrying lanterns. Nobody in Kashmir, however, sees the road reopening as a solution to Kashmir. Rejecting it as a ‘mere symbolism’, Mufti maintains: “This is not the ultimate step (towards resolution of the Kashmir is sue) but yes it is a step towards that. For this, the dialogue with all sections is a must. The JVR re-opening must do away with decades of mistrust, observes Baba in the University of Kashmir ... Apparently, the two sides are keen to see the political leadership of PoK and J&K interact. Pakistan has states that it would permit J&K mainstream lot, who were denied entry this time--to enter PoK only after India permits the Hurriyat leaders to visit Pakistan. But after decades of animosity and over 17 years of turmoil in Kashmir, believe observers, there seems to be light at the end of the tunnel.”
The centrist Statesman declared (4/10): “The tumultuous reception accorded to Kashmir bus passengers on both sides of the LoC is a strike against those used to calling and enforcing strikes, Hurriyat and the Kashmiri militants, as well as skeptics on the Indian side about the advisability of the bus service … What is even more heartening is that similar scenes were repeated in PoK, with people turning out in large numbers along the bus route, even though Islamabad played down the event - no senior official was present in Muzzafarabad to flag off the first bus to Srinagar. Interestingly Sardar Sikandar Hayyat, the ‘’prime minister’ of PoK who is an Islamabad appointee, has called for the opening up of more land routes and air links between the divided halves of Kashmir. At some point Islamabad will be forced to pay heed to popular demands. Delhi lost points with lax security which enabled militants to torch a building next to the one where passengers had been staying, but overall it is on the right track. It should press its advantage, as well as stay on the right side of popular opinion, by asking for the opening up of travel between Jammu-Sialkot, Kargil-Skardu, as well as places along the LoC where Kashmiris can meet their relatives from the other side. One view in Islamabad, which is echoed by Hurriyat, is that the bus might end up ratifying the LoC as the border, which they don’t want. This argument is difficult to understand, as the bus is breaching the LoC for the first time. Credit is due to both the Indian and Pakistani political leaderships, for making this possible … When General Musharraf comes visiting, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh must impress upon him the necessity of taking action against the militants’ infrastructure in Pakistan, by pointing out the patent absurdity of those claiming to fight for Kashmiri liberation also threatening to kill Kashmiris who want to meet with lost relatives.”
"Heavenly Scene In Heaven-Like Kashmir"
An editorial in nationalist Urdu-language Akhbar-E-Mashriq said (4/9): “Last Thursday millions of people from Jammu-Kashmir and the Pakistan occupied Kashmir observed the heavenly scene in which the half-century-old Line of Control (LoC) became practically non-existent when Kashmiris from both sides were passing through one another’s lands without any passports and visas, and without any restrictions whatsoever.... It looked as if Kashmir was hugging Kashmir.... Such a grand leap that both the Kashmirs took will certainly give a new turn to the course of history in future.... God willing, may Kashmiris from both sides unite and join in such a way that the feeling of separation automatically vanishes from their hearts; may all the past bitterness die out; and may there be a new dawn of love and happiness.”
Seema Mustafa opined in the centrist Asian Age (4/9): “It is now for the leaders flagging off the first Srinagar-Muzaffarabad bus from Srinagar to sit down for a brainstorming, and prepare for what is going to follow. Not just tomorrow but the years ahead. For only the very foolish will assume that Pakistan, in the euphoria of the moment, is prepared to concede ground on Kashmir, the one issue that has nurtured and fed the nation since it came into existence. The bus is an extremely important step. Not just for humanitarian reasons, although that is the sentiment that has taken hold. But for strategic reasons that will have an impact on the future of Jammu and Kashmir. Whether it emerges as actual confidence building or a step towards the final settlement of Kashmir, will depend entirely on how wholesome, far reaching, and comprehensive a strategy the government here is able to put in place. It will depend essentially on the ability of India and Pakistan to turn the emotional tide in their favor, with Islamabad currently having an edge over New Delhi on this front .... The ceremony at Srinagar was indicative of the mood in the state, with top leaders rushing to pose in front of the cameras in a "we are here as well" assertion. The terrorist violence of the day before was relegated to the background, as 19 brave Kashmiris traveled the route in defiance of threats and more violence. Muzaffarabad presented a total contrast. Pakistan treated the bus as an intra-Kashmir measure, with not a single leader travelling to PoK for the occasion. It was left to the local leaders and PoK Prime Minister Sardar Sikandar Hayat Khan to flag off the bus, after making it clear to the assembled crowd that this was a step towards the final settlement of Kashmir. After a few more buses make the historic journey and travel becomes a reality, the political reaction of the Kashmiris will have to be assessed. Will it be, as New Delhi hopes, for long-term peace between India and Pakistan without necessarily a final settlement of Kashmir? Or will the clamor be for the unification of Kashmir, with the Hurriyat acquiring the potential and having the international respectability to begin a political movement for a final settlement?”
"Caravan Of Peace Starts"
Centrist Urdu-language Azad Hind noted (4/9): "Muzaffarabad Bus service are worth their weight. From his speech it is well understood that the Indian government not only has the intention, but also has started taking action on forging a stronger friendship with Pakistan. It has become clear that positive indications are coming from across the border too. It seems that governments of both countries are moving towards sorting out all the outstanding issues between them.... It cannot be denied that there is also pressure from the international community on these two countries.... But it is also equally true that some bad elements are using religion in spreading hatred in both countries.... Indian and Pakistani authorities need to keep their vigilant eyes on such forces.”
"Will Musharraf Play Cricket, Or Go The Agra Way"
The centrist Tribune wondered (4/11): “The significance of the launch of the Srinagar-Muzaffarabad bus cannot be underestimated even by hard-boiled cynics who tend to scoff at any movement towards peace on the subcontinent ... It makes the point that the people of Kashmir think differently than those who believe in the culture of gun.... The two countries have only begun the journey and they have a long way to go before they can ask their troops to return to the barracks.... It will, however, be an error to build more hopes based on the headlines the bus has rightly made. The next weekend’s talks between Dr Manmohan Singh and President Musharraf, interestingly on the sidelines of the one-dayer at Ferozshah Kotla Grounds, will indicate how determined the two countries are to walk along the peace track in the near future.... President Musharraf recently talked about “freedom movement” in Kashmir and reiterated that Pakistan will continue to give moral and political support to it. It remains to be seen whether he will stage another Agra next Sunday as he did four years ago. Such a turn of events could cause a setback to the peace process.... While the ball is in President Musharraf’s court, he is not known to have passed on new ideas, even tentatively, to give a kick-start to a substantive round of talks or set up a mechanism for sorting out the Kashmir issue.... While the Pakistan President’s emphasis will remain on Kashmir, Indian stress will be on going beyond the Srinagar-Muzaffarabad bus and other steps to create an atmosphere of greater trust between the two nations which in turn, New Delhi thinks, will create conditions for more meaningful talks on Kashmir. This is a route which India and China have tried to follow during almost two decades.... A similar model if accepted by Pakistan can help the two countries reduce mutual distrust and tensions.”
“We've Crossed This Bridge”
An editorial in the centrist Indian Express read (4/8). “The searing images of the Tourist Reception Centre attack which had dominated the frame on Wednesday gave way to the pastoral vistas of Thursday. At Kaman Bridge, history dissolved as people from both sides of the border entered space that had hitherto been demarcated as a prohibited zone, as enemy territory. It marked a moment every bit as defining as the Delhi-Lahore bus trip that Atal Bihari Vajpayee had set in motion in the spring of 1999. As the world watches, both buses traverse the same road, although in different locations - the road to subcontinental peace. Which presents both India and Pakistan with a conundrum: sustaining the audacious Srinagar-Muzaffarabad bus journey would demand winning the confidence of the traveler, and winning the confidence of the ordinary traveler would mean managing the fear factor and managing the fear factor would require substantive engagement between India and Pakistan on Kashmir and a concerted attempt on the part of both countries to defeat the terrorist agenda. Nobody perhaps has grasped the significance of the latest bus journey as clearly as those faceless men willing to break every human law in order to achieve their mission. In the latest instance, the fidayeen have shown themselves willing to take their battle to the doorstep of the ordinary Kashmiri, in the name of liberating the ordinary Kashmiri. The irony cannot be more patent. Every time they threaten to blow up the bus, or plant improvised explosive devices along the bus route, or plan suicide attacks, they are not “saving” Kashmir - as they claim they are - but attacking Kashmiris. Never has their cause looked as compromised as it does today, for the simple reason that a bus journey linking the two Kashmirs is an idea that has caught the imagination of the local people. Other confidence building measures undertaken by the two countries may have made academic sense to the people of the region, this one touches their lives ... Listen to the talk of travelers. They want not just one bus but many buses, not one border crossing but many border crossings. This popular enthusiasm must not be extinguished by fear. That should be a common purpose for India and Pakistan, who had jointly sponsored an initiative that does much credit to both. They have crossed this bridge. Now, for the others.”
“Passage To Peace”
The nationalist Hindustan Times expressed (4/8): “The word ‘historic’ often ends up becoming a cliché. But nothing but that word can really describe the re-opening, after 57 years, of the Srinagar-Muzaffarabad bus route.... The heroes were the passengers themselves who braved terrorist threats and actual attacks to reach their destination. Predictably, terrorists and some separatist like Syed Ali shah Geelani have ended up catching the wrong end of the stick. The aim of the bus is not to bypass the resolution of the Kashmir problem, but to facilitate it. Those who think that the solution lies in redrawing boundaries and borders are really saying that no solution is possible because that was the sterile road that India and Pakistan have been walking on for so long, a path that has led to several wars and a lot of death and destruction. What matters today are not borders, but their character: The aim of the current India-Pakistan dialogue is to transform our kind of a border to the other. That is where the Srinagar-Muzaffarbad bus comes in . If things go well, buses, many of them, will do the run right through, instead of the cumbersome transshipment at Kaman bridge.... Going by current trends, there could be a general opening up along the entire India-Pakistan border within a matter of years. And when that happens, you may notice another funny thing-our problems will not have gone away, but they will looking a little different, less daunting and somewhat easier to resolve.”
"Facing Down A Threat"
The centrist Hindu remarked (4/8): “Prime Minister Manmohan Singh must be commended for displaying clear-sightedness and resolve in traveling to Srinagar to flag off the bus service to Muzaffarabad ... The Government could not have been overly faulted had it postponed the inaugural run, citing the safety of passengers. They were apparently the targets of the militants' suicide mission; ... In the face of this terrorist intimidation, it is heartening that the leaders of both India and Pakistan understood the need to follow through on a promising initiative. Equal credit must go to the passengers. Refusing to be fazed by terrorist threats, they coolly kept their tryst with Muzaffarabad ... Only time will tell whether the commencement of the Srinagar-Muzaffarabad bus service will be a watershed in bilateral relations, but the strong, quiet support extended on the ground to the process of détente and normalization by people on both sides of the LoC is reassuring. Prime Minister Singh wisely refused to accuse Pakistan or its intelligence agencies of any involvement in the terrorist attack of April 6. Aside from the apparent lack of evidence, such an accusation would have undermined a process of reconciliation progressively crafted by New Delhi and Islamabad. General Musharraf deserves warm appreciation from India for helping to see the project through. While the opportunity provided for meetings between members of divided families is of value in itself, this demonstration of the benefits of India-Pakistan amity at the people-to-people level can have implications over the longer term. It has always been India's case that the dispute with Pakistan will be more easily resolved if the peoples of the two countries develop trust in each other through more frequent and easier interaction. With Pakistan's Foreign Minister Kurshid Mehmood Kasuri expressing his appreciation for the merits of the Indian argument, there is hope that the two countries will intensify the process of positive engagement. While much has been done to ensure security along the Srinagar-Muzaffarabad route, there is no guarantee that the bus service will always be safe from attack. The extremists appear determined to disrupt the service because they believe that an enhancement of people-to-people contacts will deflate their "movement for self-determination." ... However, the extremists might have made a strategic mistake by targeting the bus service, which does not have any demonstrable connection with the major political issue of jurisdiction over the territory of Jammu and Kashmir. The extremists have placed themselves on the wrong side of the very people they claim to fight for.”
The pro-BJP right-of-center Pioneer commented (4/8): “The Srinagar-Muzaffarabad bus got rolling despite an eleventh-hour roadblock of violence. This only shows how resilient the sub continental peace constituency has become. The attack on the Srinagar Tourist Reception Centre was clearly an act of desperation: The greater the momentum of Indo-Pakistani rapprochement, the more jihadis fear being put out of business. The biggest tribute to making the Karvan-e-Aman (Caravan for peace) possible in the face of terrorist blackmail goes to ordinary people on both sides of the border.... While bus passengers remain undaunted, plotters of the suicide attack have exposed themselves as murderous jihadis with no qualms about turning on the very Kashmiri "brothers" they pretend to champion. However, relief over the aborted bloodbath is not free of doubt about the way Central and J&K authorities handled the inauguration. By turning it into a tamasha, (Joke) what were both thinking? Former J&K Chief Minister Farooq Abdullah has rightly asked why security was made less of a priority to turning the bus run-up into a politically encashable 'cultural' mela. Given the prior terror warning, the series of security lapses is shocking-from leak of the passengers' list, through disclosure of where they were lodged to the ease with which armed fidayeen stormed the complex. The efficient, low-key way PoK authorities conducted the flag-off couldn't be more striking. On the Indian side, political and media hype reached such frenzied levels that were a bus passenger to sneeze, the news would have found its way into the terror camp. The Congress-PDP extravaganza was open invitation to militants to strike at will ... The ceremony was out of bounds-even former Prime Minister Vajpayee did not make it as an invitee! If a tamasha was to be staged at all, surely it should have been geared to showcasing national unity. Surely Vajpayee-credited with relentlessly pursuing peace with Pakistan, and the original proponent of the bus link-should have been on the dais during an historic occasion that was principally the fruit of his labor ... The security lapse on the eve of the bus launch, nonetheless, raises serious questions on the future of the link. The Congress should stop playing petty politics with the India-Pakistan peace process. Maybe it could start kicking its monopolizing habits by recalling the statesmanlike way Vajpayee once did the job.”
"Bus For Peace"
The centrist Tribune wrote (4/8): “The smooth inaugural run of the Srinagar-Muzaffarabad and Muzaffarabad-Srinagar buses is a tribute to the determination of the two countries to give the peace process yet another push. Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and Congress President Sonia Gandhi.... squared themselves to the challenge flung at the Central and state governments by the militants. In an act of desperation they made a suicide attack on the Tourist Reception Centre in Srinagar on Wednesday. Thankfully, Pakistan has condemned the terrorist attack, though it has not been as keen as India is on the introduction of the bus service. Nonetheless, to be fair to Pakistan, it has been playing along. It is a pity that the militants were out to disrupt the bus service, which was introduced mainly on humanitarian grounds and as a confidence-building measure. It shows how much concern they have for the welfare of the Kashmiri people for whom they are supposed to have taken up arms. Again, it is a greater pity that sections of the Hurriyat have come out in the open against the bus service which, they feel, would make them redundant over a period of time. From the conduct of both, it would have become clear to Pakistan that it is not the interest of the common man but their own selfish interest that they have been pursuing. The possibility of some groups in Pakistan still providing the militants moral, if not logistical, support when they oppose the bus service cannot be ruled out. What worries the militants is the enthusiasm the people on both sides of the Line of Control have to re-establish contact with each other. Pakistan owes it to the people to cooperate with India in frustrating the militants’ attempt to disrupt the bus service by hook or by crook. This means fighting them head on.”
"Caravan Of Sacrifice"
Right-of-center Samna opined (4/8): “The bus, supposed to be a caravan of peace, finally left for Pakistan occupied Kashmir on Thursday amidst sniper fire and hand-bombs, which were preceded by a terrorist attack on the safe house for the bus passengers on the eve of the bus journey. Fortunately, none of the bus passengers was hurt ... India sent a similar caravan of peace from Delhi to Lahore under the initiative of the then Indian Prime Minister A.B. Vajpayee not very long ago. When Vajpayee and the then Pakistani Prime Minister Navaz Sharief were giving each other a friendly hug, Pakistan’s then military chief Pervez Musharraf was busy drawing up plans for invading India’s Kargil sector. Today, Vajpayee has been replaced by Manmohan Singh and the Delhi-Lahore bus has been replaced by Srinagar-Muzaffarabad bus; the Musharraf factor remains the same. The Pakistani military dictator is still using the same threatening language - ‘resolve Kashmir or else’ - and his Indian interlocutors still continue to be naïve about striking peace with Musharraf despite his known past record to the contrary.... In the midst of all the hullabaloo over the current peace process, Kashmir will continue to bleed in the wake of terrorist attacks and espionage activities engineered by Pakistan. Indian soldiers continue to be offered as sacrificial lambs in this killing field, thanks to the naïve and suicidal attitude of India’s ruling politicians. The caravan of peace cannot succeed until the caravan of sacrifice of Indian soldiers is stopped.”
"Caravan Of Peace"
Left-of-center Marathi-language Maharashtra Times said (4/8): “The bus that left Srinagar for Muzaffarabad in Pakistan occupied Kashmir on Thursday after a gap of 58 years bears ample testimony to the fact that if India and Pakistan have the political will, no force in the world can prevent them from becoming friendly neighbors. However, the question is whether the political leaders in both countries have the courage to display such a will that can overcome the opposition to peace from terrorists and fundamentalist forces active in the subcontinent. Former Prime Minister A.B. Vajpayee had launched a similar peace caravan from Delhi to Lahore but it crashed in the aftermath of the Kargil war foisted on India by Pakistan soon afterward. It is worrying to all concerned in India now if the new bus initiative wouldn’t meet with a similar fate under the watch of Manmohan Singh. It is up to Pakistan President Musharraf to prove these fears wrong by ensuring that the bus history doesn’t repeat itself. If he fails to ensure that, the caravan of peace is sure to turn into a funeral parade of peace.”
"Kashmiris Create History Amidst Terrorists' Threat"
Centrist Hindi-language Divya Bhaskar commented (4/8): “April 7, 2005, will go down in (the Indian subcontinent's) history as a day which united the people living across borders between India and Pakistan after a gap of 58 years. The Srinagar-Muzaffarabad bus, which made its maiden journey on this day, served as a bridge to peace by bringing the people of Kashmir closer to each other after long years of separation. The bus service between India and Pakistan, as part of confidence-building measures, is a significant step in their efforts to establish peace in this region. Despite terrorist threats and a number of bureaucratic and political hurdles, the people of Kashmir displayed enormous courage by taking the first ride to meet their relatives across the Line of Control. As everyone expected, the scene of people meeting their dear ones turned out to be a truly emotional one…. The spirit shown by Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and Congress Party President Sonia Gandhi who, despite the looming threat by terrorists, made it to the venue to flag-off the inaugural bus service is certainly praiseworthy. This shows that despite hurdles and obstacles, India stands committed to creating a congenial atmosphere for establishing cordial relations with Pakistan.”
"Caravan Of Peace"
The left-of-center Free Press Journal noted (4/8): “The most touching confidence-building measure between India and Pakistan was launched with the flagging off by Manmohan Singh and Sonia Gandhi of the Srinagar-Muzaffarabad bus ... Both the countries are committed to protecting the life of the people who have risen above the rigidities of alienation and animosities. These people who boarded the bus on Thursday have done so in spite of the most vengeful attack by militants who have become desperate. That even the separatist voice of Hurriyat has become silent, at lest for the time being, is significant. Nobody can pretend that Muzaffarabad is the end of the peace journey for the two countries. Many things remain to be sorted out. But if procedural rigidity can be erased and goodwill prevails on both sides, the Muzaffarabad bus and the bus from there to Srinagar will have signaled a great beginning. From here the two countries can go only in one direction: forward.”
"Terror Fight On Summit Table"
Pranay Sharma opined in the centrist Kolkata-based Telegraph (4/8): “The meeting between Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and President Musharraf this month will for all practical purposes be a summit, and terrorism looks set to top the agenda. After yesterday’s fidayeen strike in Srinagar, Delhi is worried about coping with the situation if the peace bus comes under attack from terrorists. The brave face shown by the leadership…in flagging off the inaugural bus from Srinagar to Muzaffarabad may have helped Delhi salvage some pride after yesterday’s attack. However, it is uncertain how long tight security can be maintained to ensure passengers are safe. The Indian leadership, therefore, has to take the opportunity of Musharraf’s visit to extract a promise that he will do all he can to stop cross-border terrorism … India has labored to explain that the President’s meeting with the Prime Minister is not a summit. South Block has instead described it as a ‘friendly visit’. However, it is clear that Musharraf’s visit will be regarded as a summit. The two leaders will meet to discuss important issues and may even come out with a joint statement. India will propose new confidence-building measures, but the Pakistan President’s sincerity about combating terrorism will remain the focus.”
"Kashmir Hug, Delhi Blush"
The centrist Kolkata-based Telegraph remarked (4/8): “History was in making when the two Kashmirs were connected after 58 years as civilian vehicles rolled for the first time…on Jhelum Valley Road. Wednesday’s militant attack on the tourist center in Srinagar did not deter travelers on either side from taking the bus. But the bus from Pakistan was full with 30 passengers and from India one-third empty with 19, after five dropouts since Wednesday’s incident. The score - 30 to 19 - symbolizes the difference between the ways Pakistan and India have managed the occasion. India’s messy handling handed Islamabad a propaganda coup even the best spin doctors in Islamabad could not have hoped for. For General Pervez Musharraf, it is the feather in the cap after a string of diplomatic successes: the F-16s, a triumphant return to the Commonwealth and a place at the strategic high table in Southeast Asia that balances India, to mention a few. The impression left in drawing rooms across the world after the dramatic attack in Srinagar was that everything was rotten on the ‘Indian side of Kashmir’ and out of control of the Indians. By carefully calibrating their pitch and not making a big deal about the bus, Musharraf’s spin doctors projected the image that all is well in what Pakistan calls Azad Kashmir, though it is far from the truth. The Srinagar attack, followed by Thursday’s blast in Pattan minutes after the buses had passed, created the impression that the Indians are the problem in Kashmir. It is this impression Islamabad had tried to perpetuate for decades by flogging the UN resolution on Kashmir and repeatedly asking the world to intervene. The impact of this campaign had lost its momentum after a high pitch in the early to mid-1990s. But images of the burning shelter in Srinagar - contrasted by the calm in Muzaffarabad - may well give it a new lease of life. The US condemned the Srinagar incident and called it terrorism … Words of condemnation, in any case, remain words and pale before images of helpless women leaping to the ground in the backdrop of a blazing building. Privately, Americans in government are aghast that India could not protect the most obvious target for the militants. It did not help India’s case that several passengers dropped out.”
"Price Of Hype"
An editorial in the Kolkata-based centrist Telegraph read (4/8): “The huge publicity and the high profile given by India to the bus service from Srinagar to Muzaffarabad were unnecessary and counter-productive. The attack on the Tourist Reception Center in Srinagar…may have been a direct result of the hype surrounding the bus journey. In contrast, Pakistan has prudently not raised great expectations from the resumption of travel across the line of control in Jammu and Kashmir. The build-up to the bus service has been extraordinary … All this fanfare was entirely avoidable. It has put at risk the lives of the passengers who will travel in the bus, and has perhaps allowed Pakistan to score a few brownie points over India. Militant groups obviously felt that the bus journey was intended to bypass the main issues revolving around the conflict in Jammu and Kashmir. Notice that the United Jehad Council unanimously voiced its disapproval of the bus journey. Militant groups were provoked to mount a desperate attack on the passengers on the eve of the journey. As a result, many of the passengers backed out and did not undertake the journey. It is possible that there may be few takers for the bus journey in the future in the wake of militant threats and attacks. The ordinary Kashmiri too seems to have been alienated by this attempt by political leaders to hijack a measure ostensibly designed to unite divided families across the Line of Control. What would be unfortunate is if the leadership in Pakistan too comes under pressure from elements from within its ranks, and develops cold feet about opening further transport links across the LoC and does not allow any increase in the frequency of the Srinagar-Muzaffarabad bus … The best confidence building measures are those that are introduced subtly and slowly. Clearly, improving communication links is important, but to do so with such tamasha reflects shortsighted political gimmickry rather than real strategic thinking.”
"How Long Will It Be Possible To Safely Run The Bus?"
An editorial in Bengali-language pro-BJP Bartaman said (4/8): “No doubt, this bus service is really an effective initiative to enhance people-to-people exchanges aiming at normalizing Indo-Pak relations. But at the same time, some questions have been raised… Will it be possible to continue the bus service throughout the year under such a terrific security cover? … How long will it be possible to bear the huge cost associated with it? … Terrorists will continue to make attempts to disrupt the 'Peace Bus' and intimidate passengers. So, the federal government must maintain the strictest vigil… How do the terrorists still manage to get Chinese weapons unless they have links with a section of the Pakistani army? Delhi needs to check whether Pakistan is sincerely positive about the bus service. Needless to say that al-Qaida, LeT or Hizbul Mujahid terrorists have close connections with the Pakistani army and the ISI. Unless and until the Indian government pressures Pakistan to take action against them this 'Peace Bus' will turn into a white elephant. Delhi should start thinking right now whether it will continue this risky bus service in the future or initiate air service instead.... That will reduce the danger of terrorist attacks as well as enable people on both sides to travel tension-free and at a cheaper rate.”
"Embarrasment Over Much Ado"
Independent Bengali-language Anada Bazar Patrika concluded (4/8): “It seems that the publicity-hype generated by the Indian government over the 'Peace Bus' was not so prudent … Pakistan did not go for a media blitz and accomplished its task relatively silently … Neither Pakistan’s President nor any of his cabinet colleagues was present in Muzaffarabad whereas in Srinagar the Prime Minister…and even Sonia Gandhi were present to flag off the bus. When Pakistan chose to avoid the media glare India did the opposite and dragged the entire event under the focus of the international media. If for any reason, the bus service ultimately gets postponed…after a couple of symbolic journeys, frustration will automatically overwhelm the Indian political leadership and the society. Since Pakistan has handled the event from the very beginning in a low key manner their loss will possibly be much less in this regard. It seems that the high pitch of the Lahore Bus diplomacy during Vajpayee’s regime has impacted the Manmohan Singh government as well.”
"Stupid Militants Having The Last Gasp"
Urdu-language nationalist Akhbar-E-Mashriq commented (4/8): "Jihadi elements in Pakistan must have been overjoyed and thought that they had accomplished something extraordinary through the blast they had triggered at the Srinagar tourist center. But it is certain that as a result of this action the public will surely not hold them in high esteem. For more than fifty years there has been an unnatural ‘Berlin Wall’ in the shape of the Line of Control…dividing Kashmiris into two identities. People on each side are extremely zealous to meet their family members and relatives. Those who want to put up hurdles towards this union are none but the enemies of humanity. Destructive elements behind such an action should never expect the least sympathy from the public… These foolish elements should realize that the Srinagar-Muzaffarabad Bus Service is not just a mere step towards confidence building…but it also signifies fulfillment of the Kashmiris’ long cherished yearning. Anyone who tries to hinder that yearning would certainly be broken in pieces.”
Prem Shankar Jha wrote in the nationalist Hindustan Times (4/8): “The first bus in 57 years left Srinagar for Muzaffarabad yesterday. Eight days after it appears in print, General Musharraf will arrive in Delhi, allegedly to watch a cricket match but in reality to confer informally on the future of our countries. One does not have to a historian to recognize that we are in the very cusp of history. The next two weeks could decide whether we move towards peace, greater domestic stability and purposeful cooperation in international affairs, or towards a renewed, debilitating confrontation that keeps us trapped as pawns in the American bid for empire. But while Pakistan’s policy-makers seem to have recognized the gravity of the moment, New Delhi’s actions suggest a disturbing absence of strategy. How else does one explain the succession of faux pas that the government has committed over the opening of the bus link itself? ... The root cause of the lack of a strategic vision in India’s policy is the inability of Indian policy-makers to look at themselves through Kashmiri eyes. Were they able to do so, they would see that Kashmir went through an irreversible change when Farooq Abdullah agreed to fight the 1987 elections as an ally of the Indian National Congress.”
“This Bus Must Roll”
The centrist Indian Express noted (4/7): “Getting the Srinagar bus rolling on the road to Muzaffarabad was never expected to be easy. But then, the stakes too could not have been much higher. Reviving traffic and contact on the old Srinagar-Rawalpindi road became, in effect, a test of sincerity on the part of the governments of India and Pakistan to overthrow decades of accumulated maximalism to give salience to the peace process. It was as simple as this.... It promised, in return, visible proof that dialogue and adjustment could deliver results, that they could bring tangible benefits to people on both sides of the border. In the end, New Delhi and Islamabad pulled it off. Today two buses - one from Muzaffarabad, the other from Srinagar - should cross each other on this high road. But the work for the two governments is not over. Securing this bus service will require enormous tenacity and cooperation. The suicide attack on the State Road Transport Corporation office in Srinagar on Wednesday must serve as a reality check of the changing matrix of the peace process.“
“Bus, A Threat To Jehadis”
The centrist Hindu commented (4/7): “The Srinagar-Muzaffarabad bus is still set to roll on Thursday. As demonstrated by the dastardly attempt on the lives of the 25 bus passengers this afternoon in Srinagar, the threats hurled by terrorist groups to this "peace link" are all too real. The importance of the bus service is clear. It is a threat to the very survival of the terrorist groups, which have been operating in the name of the Kashmiri people for far too long. These "jehadis" have exposed themselves by attacking their Kashmiri "brothers and sisters." Having tried to attack the passengers as a group, it is entirely possible that the terrorists will now try to target individual travelers, who are excited about meeting their family members on the other side of the Line of Control (LoC). Naturally, this will place a greater responsibility on India and Pakistan to work together to ensure the safety and security of the passengers. Given the fact that these groups operate from the Pakistani side of the LoC, Islamabad's responsibility on this count is that much greater ... India and Pakistan have shown that they could sink their differences by agreeing to a creative compromise on the bus service, safeguarding their national positions even while allowing people living on either side of the LoC to meet each other. The bus is a "model" construct that should guide the future course of India-Pakistan relations. First proposed in October 2003 by the then External Affairs Minister, Yashwant Sinha, many felt that the bus would never get moving given the fears and reservations on both sides. These fears were proved wrong when the External Affairs Minister, Natwar Singh, clinched a deal on beginning the bus service in February with the Pakistani leadership ... With the inauguration of the bus service, the Kaman bridge on the LoC will become only the second, official crossing point for Indians and Pakistanis - the other, of course, being the bus and rail link across Wagah.”
The centrist Asian Age editorialized (4/7): “The militants are isolated. The ordinary Kashmiris are completely opposed to the extremists’ threat to turn the Muzaffarabad-Srinagar bus into a coffin. A demonstration of this opposition is the refusal of most of the passengers to back off and return to the safety of their homes in the wake of these threats. Seven persons were hurt in a powerful IED blast on the route to be taken by the bus when it sets out for its first journey from Srinagar on Thursday, a message from the militants that they still retain the power to strike close to the target. The hardliners in Kashmir and in Pakistan are totally against the bus as they see in it a conspiracy by the governments of both India and Pakistan to undermine the so called struggle for freedom. Instead of embracing this as a people oriented confidence building measure intended to bring relief to the divided families, the militants in their peculiar logic are doing all they can to prevent it from operating. It is this kind of lopsided vision that has also contributed to the suffering of the Kashmiris who are finally becoming aware that they were as much the victims of terrorist groups as they were of the security forces. The logistics of operating this bus, that has emerged as a symbol of governmental good intent, are giving sleepless nights to the security forces entrusted with ensuring its safe passage to and from the Line of Control ... In case there is violence, the blame will automatically go to rest at Pakistan’s door and sour relations with India and the world. It is important to ensure through a combination of effective security, and firm action that the extremists do not succeed in turning the bus into a coffin, and thereby depriving Kashmiri families of the one real CBM that has been worked around their specific desires, and not that of Delhi or Islamabad. The tearful eyes, the look of anticipation, and the excitement of the poor Kashmiris over the prospect of being re-united with their families after over 50 years should act as a deterrent for cold blooded terrorists who claim to be working in the interests of the people of Jammu and Kashmir.”
“Don't Get Off The Bus”
An editorial in the centrist Times of India read (4/7): “One day before the Srinagar-Muzaffarabad bus was supposed to roll, terrorists attacked and set aflame the safe house where passengers were lodged ... New Delhi and Islamabad would have anticipated attacks from groups intent on disrupting the thaw between the two nations. If so, both governments should pay hardball and continue determinedly to push for peace. If not, the attack was a serious lapse of security, which should be investigated. The people of Jammu and Kashmir-parties like the PDP, the Congress the National Conference, organizations like Hurriyat and Kashmir’s civil society-must not allow this attack to disrupt Kashmir’s chance to move beyond the politics of hate and fear. Even hard line factions, which believe that J&K belongs to Pakistan, should condemn the attack on the bus, as indeed has Pakistan’s foreign minister. After all, bus diplomacy was conceived of an implemented by both New Delhi and Islamabad. The attack is an embarrassment for Pervez Musharraf 11 days before he lands in India to watch cricket. Terrorism and the collapse of governance had turned Kashmir into a valley of sorrow since the 1980s ... The Srinagar attack was preceded by explosions in Muzaffarabad in Pakistan-occupied Kashmir. It is clear that terrorists are intent on jeopardizing the coming together of Kashmiris. Nobody must yield to these threats. The biggest fear of terrorists is the prospect of people meeting and talking to one another across the border, because such bonhomie would destroy the paranoia abetted by people with a sectarian view of history. New Delhi or Islamabad shouldn‘t get into the blame game: There’s evidence that many jehadi outfits are now independent of the Pakistan government. Islamabad must work harder than ever to make the bus route operational. Perhaps the two governments should think of organizing a joint patrol of Indian and Pakistani military personnel to escort the bus through the 170-km stretch-simply to show who is in charge. Any attempt to stop the bus will strengthen the resolve of those who want us to get off the vehicle of peace. History and all peace-loving Kashmiri people will not forgive India and Pakistan if their governments cower before terrorist thugs.”
"Caravan Of Peace: One More Experiment With Bus Diplomacy"
Right-of-center Gujarati-language Gujarat Samachar opined (4/7): “The proposed bus service (Caravan of Peace) between Srinagar and Muzaffarabad is expected to send across the message of peace and goodwill between India and Pakistan. There is a general feeling, not only in the Kashmir valley, but in the whole of India that this bus diplomacy will create a cordial atmosphere towards solving all the outstanding bilateral issues between India and Pakistan. However, caution needs to be exercised before making such generalizations. India’s efforts towards normalization of relations with Pakistan have not been met with the desired success in the past. How can one forget the fate of the Lahore bus diplomacy? Pakistan stabbed India by thrusting Kargil! What is the guarantee that Pakistan will not resort to its ulterior objectives vis-à-vis Kashmir through this bus diplomacy? Will this bus bring about a change of mind for President Musharraf? Will this bus help in ending cross-border terrorism? Will the Inter Services Intelligence of Pakistan stop aiding and abetting terrorism in India? This all seems to be next to impossible. We cannot expect Pakistan to change its outlook towards India…. Interestingly, the bus for peace and the arms acquisition are moving parallel to each other. The U.S. has cleared the decks for the supply of F-16s to Pakistan and also offered India these fighter jets. China will be supplying Pakistan with five warships. India also will be getting a Russian-made warship in the next two years. Amidst all this how can we expect Pakistan to be sincere in striking peace with India? The role of nations like the U.S. in such scenarios resembles a monkey who takes advantage by making the cats (in this case India and Pakistan) fight against each other.”
"Caravan Of Hostility?"
Left-of-center Marathi-language Loksatta commented (4/7): “A day before Prime Minister Manmohan Singh could flag off the Srinagar-Muzaffarabad bus on April 7, the Fidayeen militants have ripped apart the security arrangements in Srinagar. This lapse is detrimental to the security concerns of the entire country. It is rather condemnable that the Union Home Ministry, the army and the security forces, which claimed to have done their spade work required for the resumption of the historic bus service, fell short of deploying their resources to avoid this terrorist attack.... It is now obvious that the Muzaffarabad-bound bus passengers risk their lives. But, of course, that should not lead to India’s surrender before the four militant organizations which intend to sabotage the India-Pakistan peace process.... While India still upholds the legitimacy of this bus service, and the Indian Prime Minister has not cowed down before the militants, Pakistan continues to demonstrate its traditional narrow-minded response. By objecting to certain passengers in the bus, especially National Conference leader Omar Abdullah and People’s Democratic Party’s Mehmooba Mufti, Pakistan has unnecessarily opposed the mainstream representatives of the Kashmiri people. They cannot dictate the choice of passengers coming from India. It will only create bitterness between the two neighbors. Thankfully, Pakistan has condemned the militant attack in Srinagar.”
"Army In One Of Riskiest Peace Time Missions"
Defense Correspondent Sujan Duttawrote wrote in the centrist Kolkata-based Telegraph (4/7): “The Indian Army will…shepherd a busload of civilians through hostile territory in one of the riskiest peace time military operations in recent history. The road to Muzaffarabad and an elusive peace in Kashmir is a nightmarish scenario for any army, mined as it is with the threat from militants who are not backed by any state. This afternoon’s attack on and the burning of the Tourist Reception Centre in Srinagar has only underscored the threat. Every country, including the US, is fearful of militants who are non-state actors. In Kashmir, the Indian government has so far said the militants are backed by Pakistan. But the bus service is the consequence of an agreement between New Delhi and Islamabad. Prima facie, Pakistan does not support the militants. In the wake of the fidayeen attack today, army headquarters was asked for an update on the security situation. There was even pressure from the political leadership on the army for a ‘security guarantee’. The army top brass is understood to have said that such a guarantee is unrealistic. The bus will be driven through terrain that can be deceptive. A small improvised explosive device with a timer can prove to be deadly as can a sniper on a hill top … The reason the army is hesitant to use the word ‘sanitize’ is military. Given the political environment and topography through which the road runs, a 100 per cent security guarantee is impossible … Despite the risk, army headquarters is in favor of the bus running as scheduled. It feels an attack on the bus will alienate the militants from the people. Plus, the bus service is practically, apart from the LoC ceasefire, a Kashmir-specific confidence-building measure with Pakistan that can stabilize the security situation in the long term. Without a shade of doubt, the attack is an embarrassment for the security establishment. Also, it has struck fear in the hearts of the passengers. There was no way of knowing what the passengers who have got entry permits and have booked tickets are saying. They are in ‘the safe custody’ of security forces, chiefly the CRPF.”
"Waiting With Open Arms"
The centrist Statesman observed (4/7): “On the highway to peace, if it still can be called that after today’s attack in Srinagar, the countdown...has begun.... For hundreds and thousands of Kashmiri Muslims who have their kith and kin across the Line of Control, the resumption of bus service between Uri and Muzaffarabad is the realization of a long-cherished dream. As the bus rolls a couple of hours from now, besides these Muslims who are waiting with bated breath to meet their relatives, scores of these Hindus of Lagama-Bandi living along the LoC…are also praying for the success of the bus-service. The residents of the twin villages of Lagama-Bandi, predominantly two Hindu villages here in Uri, will be the first ones to welcome the passengers from Muzaffarabad.... Although the people of Lagama village have no relatives in Muzaffarabad, they are more enthusiastic about the opening of Srinagar-Muzaffarabad bus than anybody else. Most of the people from these villages who are non-Kashmiri-speaking Hindus had their ancestors living in Muzaffarabad …Around 300 Hindu families have since been living here in harmony with Muslims. Most of these Hindu residents of Lagama-Bandi are nostalgic about the historic bus that is plying after 58 years. For them, the arrival of the first bus means that one day they can also visit Muzaffarabad, a place many of them had to leave in 1947.”
"Bus Trial By Blaze"
Aloke Tikku and Mukhtar Ahmad opined in the centrist Kolkata-based Telegraph (4/7): “India, with little option but to carry on with the trip, declared…that the program would go ahead as scheduled. Pakistan condemned the attack in the ‘strongest possible’ language but took its time in announcing that the bus from its side would roll … The failure to protect the Tourist Reception Centre building - which had come to symbolize the bus service and which was thought to be one of the most secure corners in India with almost the entire world watching - will deal a severe blow to efforts to boost the confidence of future bus passengers. The attack was in one of Srinagar’s most protected areas, near the Chief Minister’s official residence and the government radio and television broadcasting offices. But the political leadership is determined to make the best of the worst scenario … In sharp contrast, neither Pervez Musharraf nor any other senior member of his government will be present when the reciprocal bus leaves Muzaffarabad … The ostensible reason for the absence is the Pakistani leaders’ preoccupations with Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao but some analysts feel Islamabad has wisely chosen to keep a safe distance from the live-wire occasion in Muzaffarabad. Against the backdrop of the terror strike, the marked difference in the approach of the two sides has raised questions whether India committed a tactical mistake by pitching the bus launch as a high-voltage spectacle. The more high profile an event, the more it suits terror groups to mount a desperate attack…and gain maximum mileage. Fortunately, the loss of civilian life in the blaze has been nil. But the security establishment’s loss of face is incalculable … A combine of four militant groups that had threatened to turn the bus into a ‘coffin’ has owned up responsibility for the attack. In the evening, the state government came up with a response to the coffin threat--it decided to name the bus Kaarwan-e-Aaman (the caravan of peace).”
PAKISTAN: “Destination Of Kashmir Bus Service”
Center-right Urdu-language Pakistan mentioned (4/8): "Is the commencement of the bus-service tantamount to resolution of disputes between Pakistan and India. Negative is the simple answer. However, the bus-service has created an atmosphere, which may help in the resolution of the problems.... India should eschew the misnomer of becoming a mini super power.... In Manmohan Singh’s own words, if we want, jointly we can do anything."
“Muzaffarabad-Srinagar Bus Service: Possibilities, Apprehensions”
Popular Urdu-language Khabrain stated (4/8): "The reaction by Mujahideen was not unexpected, as they had announced their intention of not letting the bus service succeed. Following this threat, appropriate security measures should have been taken (by India) but they were not, and consequently this unfortunate incident (attack on the bus stand) took place.... In another incident, the bus carrying Pakistani cricket team was pelted with stones in the Indian state of Jharkand, resulting in broken windows. Pakistan is taking confidence building measures with utmost sincerity therefore our eyes should be on the possibilities ahead, not apprehensions."
"Futile Attack On Peace"
The centrist national English-language News remarked (4/8): "The attack designed to sabotage the inaugural run of the much-awaited bus service between Srinagar and Muzaffarabad is a highly condemnable act of terrorism. Among other things, the attack has damaged whatever little credibility that certain unrepresentative militant groups have enjoyed in Kashmir.... The Srinagar attack by militants is, therefore, nothing more than an effort to derail the peace process and keep the maintain the vicious circle of violence.... It is against this backdrop that the determination shown by India and Pakistan to go ahead with the bus service in the face of the terrorist threat is praiseworthy. It will send an unambiguous message to the shadowy groups that there will be no bowing to terrorism. The political parties and the civil society in Kashmir should clearly distance themselves from groups that are even remotely militant. The social and political isolation of the militants will ultimately squeeze their sphere of influence and give dialogue a fair chance."
"Perils And Opportunities"
Center-left independent national English-language Dawn stated (4/8): "It is important that despite all the threats and risks, both sides should persist with and expand travel links between the two parts of Kashmir, which will be one of the surest ways of bringing the people of Kashmir to center stage in the effort to normalize Indo-Pakistan relations. At the same time, such gestures cannot be a substitute for a determined political effort to tackle the Kashmir problem and other knotty issues that divide Pakistan and India.... Because of domestic compulsions on both sides and developments internationally, an opportunity of a lifetime has presented itself to the people of Kashmir and the people of India and Pakistan to live in friendship and cooperation. It should not be missed."
“Srinagar-Muzaffarabad Bus Service”
Urdu-language Nawa-e-Waqt noted (4/7): "Pakistan and India governments should ensure the resolution of the Kashmir dispute before going for the bus-service. The Indian government should stop human rights violations in occupied Kashmir, something that was admitted recently by the Indian Defense Minister.... Otherwise conflict would be our future."
"Muzaffarabad-Srinagar Bus Security”
Center-right Urdu-language Pakistan remarked (4/7): "Pakistan Foreign Minister Khurshid Kasuri has described the attack on the tourist center, Srinagar as an act of enemies of peace. Before this attack an explosion had occurred on the route of the Bus on Tuesday.... Even Hurriat Conference leaders, who oppose the bus service, have said that terrorism against the bus-service would harm Kashmir freedom struggle. It appears that other extremist groups in India are behind this attack. These other extremist elements had also made statements against the bus-service. The Indian government should keep a vigil on these elements and should do all possible for the security of the bus."
"The Start Of Kashmir Bus Service”
Independent Din opined (4/7): "Some passengers traveling on the bus grew nervous following threats by militants; perhaps this is what the militants were aiming at. Only they know what wisdom there is behind opposing the bus service. Perhaps they feel that if the two people revive contact, a solution to the Kashmir issue would move further into the future, whereas the reality is that increased contact between Kashmiris would raise their importance and participation in the resolution of the issue.... For the present moment, it is the human angle of the issue we should keep in mind, the political aspect is only secondary right now.... The Kashmir bus service should be termed as a restoration of ground links for the Kashmiris - reading more into this effort is futile, as it would only engender baseless apprehensions. However, security to this service should be given prime importance. End quote.
GERMANY: "Politics With A Kashmir Bus"
Business-oriented Financial Times Deutschland editorialized (4/8): "The people who cried of joy yesterday had two good reasons for it. Many celebrated the first meeting with their relatives in 60 years and the fortunate end of the most dangerous bus journey in their lives.... That the passengers went on this journey despite the deadly risks shows how great their longing for peace is. The governments of India and Pakistan are therefore seeking further reconciliation. Pakistan's President Musharraf is expected to go to a Cricket match between both national teams in New Delhi. But the attacks on 49 harmless bus travelers are a dramatic warning. Extremist groups have no interest at all in rapprochement and will try to torpedo the peace process. Establishing a highly political bus route in Kashmir cannot be seen as the beginning of a quick breakthrough in a long conflict. The governments believe in symbolic gestures for the time being - which is clever and realistic."
SAUDI ARABIA: "Jihadists Miss Bus In More Ways Than One"
The pro-government, English-language Arab News opined (4/8): "That peace is anathema to the people on the lunatic fringe was amply demonstrated by Wednesday’s attack on the sprawling tourist reception center in Srinagar — the very place from where Kashmiris in India were to take a historic new bus service to visit their relatives across the border. It was sheer luck that they all survived the attack. The bus service, small gesture though it may seem, is the first tangible move since India and Pakistan decided to give peace a chance. And the decision to start it after so many years was a bold move on the part of both India and Pakistan. It spoke highly of the leadership in the two countries, as did the statements that ensued after the attack, a sign of a new maturity in relations between the nuclear rivals. Pakistani Foreign Minister Khurshid Mahmud Kasuri was quick to condemn the attack and so was India’s Prime Minister Dr. Manmohan Singh. The people who perpetrated this vile attack do not deserve to call themselves jihadists even by the depths to which the term has been degraded. What they did has nothing to do with war, holy or otherwise. It was terror, plain and simple, designed to kill as many tourists as possible. And who are these tourists? The very ones who have borne the brunt of Kashmir’s separation. They have been cut off from their brothers and sisters on the other side of the Line of Control for decades. Why should they now be punished yet again? The so-called jihadists and obscurantists have no idea of the hardships that ordinary Kashmiris have been enduring for all these decades at the hands of the Indian Army. The world at large and the Indian leadership both in the state of Jammu and Kashmir and in New Delhi acknowledge that excesses were committed by Indian security forces."
LEBANON: "Why A Bus Ride In Kashmir Is The Latest Clarion Call Of People Power"
The moderate, English-language Daily Star said (4/8): "Both countries, forged through division out of what was once British India, claim Kashmir, and short as it was, yesterday's bus ride represents a breakthrough in a stand-off that has lasted more than half a century between the two countries. The passengers who travelled amid tight security braved threats from Islamic militants who threatened to turn the inaugural bus into "a coffin" and earlier this week launched an attack on the service to prevent it operating. Though their numbers were small, their spirit and actions were cut from the same stone that saw millions of Iraqis defy the gunmen and vote in this year's elections. They were also a reminder of those who defied the Lebanese government and occupied Beirut's Martyrs' Square during that unforgettable Sunday night in late February that brought down a government, and the million who took to the streets a few weeks later to demand change and freedom..... Yesterday's bus ride, the first since the Indo-Pakistan war of 1947, represents the first tangible result of political dialogue between the Indian and Pakistan governments for many people in the region. It is also further proof that where governments are brave enough to lead, people respond with greater bravery. An historic journey today, let's hope it become routine. And let us hope that the kind of fledgling dialogue that India and Pakistan have embarked upon can encourage those in power in our own small corner of the world to lead us to a better and safer future through dialogue."
UAE: "Rites Of Passage"
The expatriate-oriented, English-language Khaleej Times commented (4/8): "When the teary-eyed, overwhelmed Kashmiris from either side of the artificial divide crossed the Line of Control yesterday, they created history.... For many of the Kashmiri families it took a whole life to travel the short stretch between Srinagar and Muzaffarabad. The cross-Kashmir bus is indeed a big leap forward in the relations of India and Pakistan. The opening of the LoC, albeit limited, allowing the Kashmiris to meet their loved ones from the other side of the divide is perhaps the best thing to have happened to the Kashmiris in the many decades. No wonder parallels are being drawn between the breaching of the LoC and the demolition of the Berlin Wall. This was of course made possible thanks to the bold steps taken by the Pakistani leadership which in turn were reciprocated by the Indian leadership. While many Kashmiris are disappointed over the limited nature of the Srinagar-Muzaffarabad link and restrictions like the precondition of having blood relations for permission to visit the other side, the cross-Kashmir bus opens a new era for Kashmiris.... India and Pakistan have certainly come a long way considering the fact only two years ago they were locked in an eyeball-to-eyeball nuclear confrontation. But the path ahead is far from easy. The unprecedented security along the route and the separatist attack on the Tourist Centre in Srinagar on Wednesday, a day before the landmark journey of Srinagar-Muzaffarabad bus, illuminate the pitfalls on the road to peace..... The separatists believe that opening of people-to-people channels is an attempt to undermine their struggle and put the Kashmir dispute on the backburner. India and Pakistan would, therefore, do well to address this irritant which has poisoned their relations for the past many decades. While the measures like Kashmir bus link are most welcome, Delhi and Islamabad must go beyond the symbolic and media-friendly gestures. They must take real and meaningful steps to bring down this vicious wall dividing Kashmiri people permanently by resolving their dispute over Kashmir."
QATAR: "Cross-Kashmir Bus A Symbol Of Normality"
The English-lanaguage, semi-independent Gulf Times said (4/8): "It has taken India and Pakistan two years of talks to get their relations back to normal after they went to the brink of a potentially disastrous war. Among the initiatives that have been achieved as a result of ministerial talks have been the ceasefire on the Line of Control, which is holding well, and a number of measures to allow interaction between people on opposite sides of that line. These include making it easier to get visas and travel documents and the introduction of a bus service between the Indian and Pakistani controlled parts of Kashmir. Yesterday, militants launched a raid in Indian-controlled Kashmir, attacking a building where passengers for today’s landmark inauguration of the bus service between the two sectors. Despite that, both India and Pakistan vowed that today’s journey would go ahead. The service on a 170km route between Muzaffarabad and Srinagar is very symbolic. It will be the first time in almost 60 years that a bus has been able to travel between the cities and it will help to reunite families which have been torn apart by decades of conflict. The bus, therefore, stands for normality. It stands for allowing people to live their lives as they wish, free from the restrictions imposed by political hostility. And it represents the ability of the Indian and Pakistani governments to work together to try to achieve peace, rather than working against one another. Pakistanís Minister for Kashmir Affairs underlined the new spirit of co-operation with his remark that, despite the attack, ‘the bus is on. It will not stop. The peace process between India and Pakistan will not stop.’ The attack which was directed against a purely civilian target has been claimed by four militant organisations who fear that Pakistan’s agreement to the bus service is a political climb-down which undermines their campaign against Indian rule."
EAST ASIA AND PACIFIC
JAPAN: "Coexistence In South Asia"
Liberal Asahi said (4/14): "It is historic that India and Pakistan, which have fought three wars over Kashmir, opened a bus route connecting the two nations. Their nuclear weapons experiments in 1998 generated international concern over the vulnerability of the disputed region and their deployment of a large number of troops to the border area in 2002 heightened tension in the district. A summit meeting between the Indian and Pakistani leaders last January, during which they reportedly discussed a wide range of bilateral issues, including the dispute over Kashmir, appears to have paved the way for cooperative relations between the two countries. The reopened bus route would allow both Indian and Pakistani citizens to commute freely between their hometowns. However, their travels will not instantly solve the longstanding territorial dispute between New Delhi and Islamabad. Other conciliatory efforts in the region are being made by China. India and Pakistan appear to have realized that establishing stable relations with China is indispensable for their future economic development. There seems to be a positive trend in South Asia to not take a military option but to seek peaceful coexistence."
"Thaw Begins With Bus Service"
Liberal Asahi observed (4/8): "Bus service that resumed between the Indian and Pakistani capitals of Kashmir signals détente between the two southwest Asian giants.... The two sides appear to have explored confidence-building measures by first increasing human exchanges and enhancing commercial trade. But, there are concerns that growing activism on the part of Kashmir radicals might dampen small yet growing spirits of reconciliation."
"Milestone For Normalization"
Liberal Mainichi maintained (4/8): "The direct bus link between the Indian and Pakistani capitals of Kashmir is a milestone in the two nations' antagonistic history.... New Delhi and Islamabad have moved closer toward normalization amid the growing international pressure they face to find a peaceful solution to their territorial dispute in the post-9/11 era. The two sides also appear to attach more importance to economic development in the face of China's rapid growth. Human resource-rich South Asia has the potential of becoming a center of economic growth if political stability is ensured. There is the possibility that armed militia in Kashmir would gradually lose influence over locals."
THIALAND: "The South Asia Bus Stops Here”
The moderately-conservative, English-language Bangkok Post declared (4/12): “India and Pakistan have proved that a journey of 1,000 miles begins with a single stop. Last week's short trip by a half-filled bus across the effective border in Kashmir was more than a token event. It was a strong statement of the recent South Asian confidence that Pakistan and India can do more than simply refrain from war. With the encouragement of friends, but more importantly with support of their own people, the governments in New Delhi and Islamabad have set in motion an actual peace process. It is informal, still unpredictable but more optimistic than at any time since partition.... Pro-Pakistan terrorists even tried to sabotage the first bus trip across the "temporary'' Line of Control in Kashmir. But they failed. That is largely because public sentiment in Pakistan and India favors friendly relations. If the people want it and governments listen, there seems little chance that violence or terrorism will overcome the spirit of peace in the air.”
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