23 October 2003

Delhi readies for another shot at peace, proposes cricket, Mumbai-Karachi ferry

23 October 2003
The Times of India

Delhi readies for another shot at peace
Proposes resuming cricket ties, Mumbai-Karachi ferry service

By Siddharth Varadarajan

New Delhi: In an attempt to breathe life into the virtually comatose peace process with Pakistan, India on Wednesday unveiled a number of proposals, the most dramatic of which were a bus service between Srinagar and Muzaffarabad in Pak-occupied Kashmir, a Mumbai-Karachi ferry service, and the resumption of bilateral sporting links, including cricketing ties.

Two of the proposals—a bus to PoK and a Rajasthan-Sindh train line—are reiterations of an earlier offer made before the Agra summit.

The decision was taken at a meeting of the cabinet committee on security and conveyed to Pakistani high commissioner Aziz Ahmed Khan by foreign secretary Kanwal Sibal.

Although this softening of the Indian stance comes days after the heightened rhetoric on the Dawood Ibrahim issue, a senior official explained that India was acting in the belief that “greater people-to-people contact is very much in our interest’’.

At a press conference, external affairs minister Yashwant Sinha said the government’s latest peace offering was not a sign of “weakness’’ and did not represent a dilution of India’s stand on crossborder terrorism. “Our war against terrorism will continue,’’ he said. “There will be no let-up.’’

While some of Wednesday’s offers can be operationalised quickly, officials say India is essentially looking first for a breakthrough on the deadlocked air links front. The civil aviation authorities in both countries will soon resume negotiations on overflight rights and point-to-point flights, with India adamant that it will not provide Pakistan any guarantee not to suspend overflights in the future.

Technical talks on the resumption of the Samjhauta Express have also been offered but Mr Sinha made it clear the rail line would only open after the “successful completion’’ of civil aviation talks. Also linked to this question will be further increases in mission staff strength and, by extension, the proposal to conduct “visa camps’’ in cities other than Delhi and Islamabad.
Even though a bus journey from Srinagar to Muzaffarabad would involve the stamping of passports at Uri on the Line of Control, Mr Sinha refused to get drawn into the wider implications. Asked whether this would mean the de facto recognition of the LoC as the international border—in the same way that the MEA interpreted the opening of a customs point at Nathu-La as de facto Chinese recognition of Indian sovereignty over Sikkim—Mr Sinha said, “The LoC is an existing reality.’’

Road to detente

• A bus or train service between Munabao in Rajasthan and Khokhrapar in Sindh
• An increase in the capacity of the Delhi-Lahore bus by running more buses in convoy on the existing days
• Allowing senior citizens to cross the Wagah border on foot
• Free treatment for another 20 Pakistani children in need of cardiac surgery

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