India Outlines Steps to Improve Ties With Pakistan

The proposals, including reopening air and land transportation between the countries and initiating a bus system within divided Kashmir, are in keeping with Indian Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee’s previous attempts to end the decades’ long conflict between the two nations. In May, he told the Indian parliament this third attempt would be the “last in my lifetime.”

Pakistan’s government issued a statement saying it was pleased with the steps taken to improve travel and other connections between the two countries, but expressed disappointment that India did not go further and agree to resume talks over the disputed province of Kashmir.

Jammu-Kashmir is India’s only state with a Muslim majority, and comprises 45 percent of the disputed Kashmir region. Pakistan controls about 35 percent of the territory and China also holds a small portion of the land. For more than 50 years, India and Pakistan have fought over the disputed territory.

Indian Foreign Minister Yashwant Sinha acknowledged the proposals did not include direct talks between the nations’ leaders.

“Pakistan, we hope, will be persuaded to give up the path of confrontation, the path of violence and come to the negotiating table in a spirit that is necessary to sustain those negotiations and that dialogue,” the Associated Press quoted Sinha as saying.

India cut all air and rail links and withdrew its ambassador from Islamabad after an attack on the Indian parliament in December 2001 that was blamed on Pakistan-based militants. Pakistan denied any involvement in the incident.

India later massed thousands of extra troops along its border with Pakistan, leading the two nuclear-armed countries to what many diplomats viewed as the brink of war.

Since April, however, India and Pakistan have been reportedly mulling ways to improve relations.

The steps outlined Wednesday include a new bus system that would link the capitals of Indian- and Pakistani-controlled Kashmir, a service sought by local families who have been divided for decades.

The proposals also include resuming bilateral sporting events, including cricket, establishing connections between the two nations’ coast guards, and allowing individual senior citizens to cross the border by foot. Until now, only groups could cross by foot or bus.

“The proposals will receive serious consideration and Pakistan’s response to any proposal that is substantive and unconditional and genuinely designed to improve relations will, as always, be positive,” according to the statement from the Pakistani Foreign Ministry.