27 February 2004
The Times of India
After Lahore, it’s destination Sindh
By Siddharth Varadarajan
TIMES NEWS NETWORK
New Delhi: With technical talks on the Sindh-Rajasthan and intra-Kashmir bus service slated for next month, high-level consultations have begun here to work out the specific set of proposals India will take to the negotiating table in Islamabad.
And though the two sets of talks are being planned separately, Indian officials say a link between the Rajasthan-Sindh bus and the more tricky Srinagar-Muzaffarabad bus is inevitable.
‘‘The PM had offered the two routes together and we hope both will come about without a hitch’’, a senior official told The Times of India on Thursday.
On Wednesday, officials from the external affairs, road transport and home ministries, as well as Rajasthan government and customs officials, met in South Block to discuss the proposed reopening of the road link between Munabao in Rajasthan and Khokhrapar in Sindh.
Technical level talks on the route are scheduled for March 8-9 but will almost certainly require a second round of meetings before a decision can finally be taken.
An inter-ministerial recce of the existing road condition and other facilities at Munabao is planned for early next week, though officials say the state of the road on the Indian side is ‘‘excellent’’.
Among issues to be looked at are the location of customs facilities.
Officials say, however, that all the details of the proposed bus service, including the frequency and points of origin and destination will have to be worked out in consultation with the Pakistani side. ‘‘We have various combinations in mind’’, said a senior official who will be involved in the talks, ‘‘but our brief is really to go there and see what exactly our Pakistani counterparts are visualising’’.
Among the questions to be settled are whether to run the bus service only between Munabao and Khokhrapar or to have an extended run between either Barmer or even Jodhpur on the Rajasthan side and Mirpur Khas or Hyderabad on the Sindh side.
Though both President Musharraf and Prime Minister Jamali have publicly supported the reopening of the traditional Sindh-Rajasthan road — closed to traffic since the 1950s — the proposal is not without its critics on the Pakistani side.
At a public meeting in Mithi, Sindh, on January 26, many speakers said the border opening would affect the province adversely. Sindh Taraqqi Pasand Party leader Nand Lal Malhi said Sindh could be swamped by outsiders and ‘‘the Sindhis would be reduced to a minority’’.
The same sentiment was echoed by Awami Tehrik leader Obhayo Junejo.
But support for the reopening has come from Sindh’s mohajir community, with Altaf Hussain of the MQM speaking out in favour of the proposed bus service.