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Peace bus lost in Kashmir flashpoint

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    Peace bus lost in Kashmir flashpoint

    Peace bus lost in Kashmir flashpoint

    By John Chalmers

    NEW DELHI, Feb 20 (Reuters) - The warm rhetoric and neat symbolism of Indian Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee's journey of peace to Pakistan last February has been consigned to the history books.

    One year on, Kashmir is once again convulsed by violence and there is more talk of war than amity.

    Mutual suspicion between the nuclear-capable foes is running high, and the breakdown of diplomacy has heightened the risk of miscalculation as their armies stand on hair-trigger alert.

    Analysts say that U.S. President Bill Clinton's visit to India next month could do little to resolve the Kashmir dispute, over which both sides have publicly hardened their positions.

    India refuses mediation, and Clinton has accepted that he could only act as a go-between if requested by both sides.

    ``Peace-wise there is no point in Clinton visiting the subcontinent, as his presence will be treated just as a PR jamboree,'' said Brian Cloughley, a commentator on South Asian affairs and former deputy head of the U.N. mission in Kashmir.

    ``Matters are going from bad to worse, and the chances or war are high,'' he said.


    When Vajpayee joined the inaugural run of a bus service from New Delhi to Lahore on February 20, 1999, he became the first Indian prime minister in a decade to visit Pakistan.

    The emotion and hope generated by the arrival of a humble bus was staggering: millions on both sides watched Vajpayee's bunting-and-brass-band welcome live on television.

    The next day, he and the then Pakistani prime minister, Nawaz Sharif, signed the most substantive accord between the two countries for 30 years, agreeing on confidence-building measures to cool tension and reduce the risk of a nuclear war.

    The euphoria was short-lived.

    By May, hundreds of heavily armed intruders were holed up on strategic Himalayan heights in Kargil on the Indian side of the Line of Control, the ceasefire line dividing Kashmir.

    The bloody battle which raged for the next 10 weeks took India and Pakistan to the brink of their fourth full-scale war since independence from Britain in 1947.

    Coming so soon after the Lahore Declaration, the Kargil intrusion generated a deep sense of betrayal in Indian public and official circles, and the peace process stopped in its tracks.

    These days Vajpayee sounds no conciliatory notes.

    He says talks with army General Pervez Musharraf, who seized power from Sharif four months ago, cannot resume until Pakistan stops sponsoring militancy in India's Jammu and Kashmir state.

    A senior Indian security official told Reuters this month that the number of militants operating in Jammu and Kashmir had more than doubled to 5,000 since the Kargil clash last year.

    There has been a rash of attacks on security camps in the state this winter, a season when heavy snows normally bring a slow down in the now-decade-old separatist violence in India's only Moslem-majority state.

    Pakistan says it only provides moral and diplomatic support to the struggle for self-determination by the people of Jammu and Kashmir, where popular frustration over poverty, corruption and the failure to deliver on a promise of autonomy is on the rise.


    Vajpayee has also said that Pakistan must be willing to discuss the return of the one-third of Kashmir under its control. Although no departure from policy, his public reiteration of the territorial claim marked a hardening of the Indian stand.

    ``Public opinion in both India and Pakistan make it very difficult for either government to move on the issue,'' said Alexander Evans, a research associate of the Centre for Defence Studies at King's College, London.

    ``Because the positions have been fixed over such a long period of time and because they are publicly stated I think it is very difficult for Indian or Pakistani policy-makers to be innovative in how they deal with the issue.''

    Evans saw little room in the next two years for peace.

    He said that confidence-building measures -- perhaps to reduce tension on the Line of Control or improve communication between the two armies -- were a possibility, but such steps have always fallen by the wayside at the first rise in tension.

    And while there may be no new Kargil-like clash, Evans argued, there is a risk that India could consider crossing the Line of Control to choke the flow of militants.

    Diplomats say a clash on the border last week in which at least four Indian soldiers were killed demonstrated that the Indian army is doing more than repulsing attacks already.

    New Delhi has sought international condemnation of Pakistan as a ``terrorist state'' which harbours militant Kashmiri separatist groups such as the one believed responsible for the hijacking of an Indian Airlines plane in December.

    But analysts said this in itself carries the risk of strengthening forces in Pakistan most inimical to India.

    The United States has made it clear that it sees engagement as a safer policy than isolation. Clinton has not ruled out a brief stop in Pakistan on his way back from India, perhaps with the hope of prodding both sides into resuming dialogue.

    ``The bus trip was about a dialogue, and a dialogue moves ahead with fits and starts,'' said Nasim Zehra, a prominent India-Pakistan expert. ``Yes, there was the hijacking of the bus over the last one year...but we can get back on track.''

    As long as fundamentalism exists in Pakistan there will be no peace in subcontinent.


      Time to send a peace bus to India. Tickets are RS/100.00. Apply to Travel Arrangements, Head Office, Lashkar-e-Tayyiba, Pakistan.


        As long as India exists fundamentalisism will not end from Pakistan.

        unity, faith, discipline
        Pakistan Zindabad


          As long as fundamentalists have some power on either side, we will have no peace.
          The greatest trick the devil ever pulled was convincing the world he did not exist. And like that... he is gone.