Fri, Feb 18, 2005 - Page 5 News List

Kashmir's transport under threat

AP , Islamabad, Pakistan

A Pakistan-based militant group on yesterday threatened to disrupt a historic new bus service across the military line that divides Kashmir if it led to more "atrocities" by Indian forces in the disputed Himalayan region.

The foreign ministers of India and Pakistan on Wednesday announced that the beginning of the service April 7 -- the most concrete outcome yet from a year of peace talks, raising hopes for a permanent rapprochement between the two nuclear-armed countries.

The decision was greeted with joy by families separated by Kashmir's militarized border, the Line of Control.

It will be first such road link between the two portions of Kashmir since Pakistan and India fought their first war there in 1947.

But militant groups fighting in Indian-held Kashmir for independence or merger with Pakistan viewed it as a setback.

"This will weaken the idea of Kashmir uniting with Pakistan. This is a conspiracy by India to weaken jihad," Mufti Abdur Rauf, a spokesman for the outlawed militant group Jaish-e-Mohammed, told reporters.

"We will see what benefits India wants to get from this bus service. If it infiltrates spies into Azad Kashmir [Pakistan-held Kashmir] and there is an increase in atrocities by Indian security forces in the occupied Kashmir [Indian-held Kashmir], we will certainly try to stop it," he said.

The buses will travel along a rutted mountain road in the folds of the Himalayas linking Muzzafarabad on the Pakistani side with Srinagar on the Indian side.

Despite the bus service agreement, the two governments remain poles apart on their territorial dispute over Kashmir, cause of two of their three wars since gaining independence from Britain in 1947.

Both sides claim the region in its entirety.

More than 66,000 people have died since an Islamic insurgency began about 15 years ago, many at the hands of Indian troops.

New Delhi accuses Pakistan of funding and training the rebels. Islamabad insists it gives only moral and political support.

After talks in Islamabad on Wednesday, visiting Indian External Affairs Minister Natwar Singh spoke positively about the future of the peace process, but he also cautioned that any progress could only be achieved if attacks are curtailed.

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