Srinagar, Islamabad, Asharq Al-Awsat- As part of the efforts to increase contact between the citizens of Pakistan and India, officials of both countries have agreed to increase the level of transport between cities of both countries.
In the recent rounds of talks on the introduction of additional bus routes, technical officials signed an agreement to establish a bus route between the Pakistani city of Lahore and the Indian city of Amritsar.
The service linking the two major cities will first cross the international border early next month, according to the agreement that was signed in New Delhi, 28 September 2005.
The bus service between the two cities is of religious significance, as the request by the Sikh community of Punjab will facilitate the visiting of Sikh holy shrines on both sides of the border.
The officials of the two countries are also considering the possibility of facilitating travel between cities in southern Pakistan and Ajmer Sharif in the west of India where one holy shrine for Muslims is located.
Raja Sultan, an expert in tourism based in Islamabad says, "the Lahore-Amritsar bus service is based on the religious shrines of Sikhism and this has led to the possibility of establishing a new route between Pakistan and India in which there are important religious shrines for Muslims."
The process of normalization has witnessed the beginning of a number of bus links between Pakistan and India including those that link Pakistani administered Kashmir and Indian administered Kashmir despite the enmity between the two armies on the 700 kilometer Line of Control which separates the two.
In the process, both countries have introduced a number of confidence building measures in both civil and military aspects of the relations. The two countries remain engaged in conflict especially within some disputed territories. One example would be the conflict in the Siachin Glacier region which is considered the highest battle zone in the world, where the two armies have fought over the past 20 years.
Both sides have participated in two rounds of talks over the past two years to demilitarize the Siachen Glacier, which is situated in the northern extremity of the subcontinent.
In an official statement, the Indian defense minister announced that both countries have reached an agreement to demilitarize the Siachen Glacier.
Last Thursday Pakistan said that the two countries are participating in talks concerning an agreement on the Siachen Glacier, however, so far no understanding has been reached.
The Foreign Ministers of both Pakistan and India will meet during the first week of October in Islamabad to review the normalization process which will include proposals for the resolution of the Siachen Glacier dispute.
In the past week, numbers of people have crossed the Line of Control that separates India and Pakistan to enter either country.
On 23 September 2005, a family of seven traveled from a small village in India to the Line of Control in an attempt to cross over into Pakistan at night.
Similarly, on the 26 September 2005, a family of nine from Pakistani administered Kashmir sought permission from Indian guards along the Line of Control in the Mendhar area of Poonch to enter India.
Two days later, a top commander from the organization, Hizbul Mujahideen, Mohd Ayub, who had trained in Afghanistan, offered to surrender himself and his weapons at an Indian post along the border. As this crossing took place, neither of the armies opened fire.
A senior army officer told Asharq al-Awsat that Ayub revealed that he had crossed over to Pakistan in 1987, and had trained in Afghan camps and in Pakistani administered Kashmir during the last 13 years. He further admitted that he had taken part in a number of militant attacks, but had now become disillusioned by militancy. He added that when he was asked to infiltrate by the Pakistani Intelligence Agency, he had already made his decision to surrender.
On the other hand, Shabir Hussain Shah who had hoped for a prosperous life in Pakistan chose to return to India. At the age of 23, his love for the new country led him to join many others in their journey to the newly established Pakistan. 27-years later however, he returned to India with his pregnant wife and seven children as Pakistani citizens claiming India as the motherland. Their eighth child will be born in India with Indian nationality.
Shah”s daughter argues that their reason for leaving Pakistan was that militants, who had threatened to rape her and her sister and to kidnap and kill their younger brother, continuously harassed her father. She adds that they decided to return to India despite the threat on their lives by Indian soldiers as they cross the border.
Shah claims that no less than two months ago, there were a number of militant training camps along the line of control and that there existed one in his village too, however they seem to have suddenly disappeared.
A senior officer told Asharq al-Awsat that it is apparent from current trends that many people are willing to take such risks to cross the borders and that a decision must be made to deal with the situation.
Under the Jammu and Kashmir constitution, crossing the Line of Control without permission is punishable under the Ingress and Egress Act.
The majority of residents along the Line of Control in Jammu and Kashmir have relatives on either side of the border.