India and Pakistan agreed on February 17, 2005, to run buses across the Line of Control that divides Kashmir.
The accord was most significant since the nuclear-armed powers began negotiating early the previous year to end more than half a century of conflict, much of it turning on the status of Kashmir. It was one of the several Confidence-Building Measures announced in Islamabad following a meeting there between the Indian and Pakistani foreign ministers.
On a practical level, the bus service was meant to help reunite Kashmiri families that were divided in 1947, when the subcontinent was partitioned and the new nations of India and Pakistan fought the first of two wars over the mostly Muslim region. The buses were tentatively scheduled to start running on April 7, linking the cities of Srinagar, the summer capital of Indian-controlled Kashmir, with Muzzafarabad 80 miles to the west on the Pakistani side of the Line of Control.
Since the two governments had agreed the previous year to open a “composite dialogue,” they had taken several steps toward normal relations, such as easing visa requirements and organizing a series of cricket matches. Such “people-to-people” exchanges had been enormously popular on both sides of the border.
But recently the peace process had seemed to bog down. Pakistani officials accused India of breaching a water-sharing agreement by building a new hydroelectric dam. The previous month, each side had blamed the other for violating a 15-month cease-fire along the Line of Control. And Pakistani officials had expressed frustration over what they termed as India’s reluctance to grapple with the “core issue” of Kashmir, suggesting that their patience might be wearing thin.
The bus proposal, meanwhile, had foundered over India’s insistence that travelers who use the service carry passports, in keeping with New Delhi’s long-held position that the province is an integral part of its territory. Pakistan, which considers all of Kashmir to be disputed, had rejected the condition. But the two sides finally agreed to finesse the matter by providing those who use the bus with special travel permits, a solution that represents something of a concession by New Delhi.
In another important gesture toward Pakistan, India had said it would consider a proposal to import natural gas from Iran via a pipeline that would traverse Pakistani territory, provided India’s security concerns were met. Pakistan was eager for the pipeline because it would yield an estimated $500 million a year in transit fees. India was keen to diversify its energy supply to fuel its booming economy.
The two sides had also agreed to reopen a long-dormant rail link between the provinces of Sindh in Pakistan and Rajasthan in India; establish a new bus service between Lahore, Pakistan, and the Indian city of Amritsar; and remove a key stumbling block to the opening of an Indian consulate in Karachi and a Pakistani consulate in Bombay. India had already announced plans to grant 10,000 visas to Pakistani sports fans for a then forthcoming cricket series between the two countries.