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ON THE ROAD

Greater wariness, when it comes from experience, may signal greater wisdom. And there is a certain soberness about the fact that the Delhi-Lahore bus is on the road again, the event has been greeted with far less euphoria than the first time. Yet, in certain ways there is more reason to trust in the firmness of will to improve matters between India and Pakistan. As the first sign of a new thaw, the gesture is significant in that it is meant to benefit the people of the two countries, many of whom are speaking up for normalizing of the relationship between the two countries in increasingly louder tones. Groups in both countries have backed up their expressed wishes with friendship visits and efforts at cultural exchange, and the Delhi-Lahore bus is an acknowledgment by governments on both sides of this strong popular feeling. But what can perhaps be seen as more positive is that this time the route has been reopened against greater odds. The last time the bus was on the road, it was Mr Nawaz Sharif’s democratically elected government in power in Pakistan, and India’s relationship with Mr Sharif never did touch the kind of low before Kargil that it touched with Mr Pervez Musharraf after his Agra visit and then the terrorist attack on Parliament. Obviously, international, especially American, pressure on both countries is an overwhelmingly important factor in inducing the two countries to try and break the deadlock. Positive moves can be born out of a conspiracy of circumstances, the bus is just the first manifestation.

But the outcome will not depend on the folk travelling by bus and otherwise on friendship visits. There is still a long way to go before the necessary hard talk can even be begun. Mr Musharraf, in spite of his declared willingness to talk, has also declared that Kashmir has priority, while India feels that unless Pakistan stops exporting terrorism and closes down terrorist training camps on its grounds as promised, there is no point in talking. In the public rhetoric of both governments at least, no way out of this vicious circle has yet been glimpsed. Meanwhile, a spur to bilateral trade has been provided by the two countries’ decision to exchange lists of items to be considered under the preferential trade agreement. As a follow-up, India has agreed to the dates of the south Asian association for regional cooperation meeting in Islamabad in January 2004. Together with the fact that diplomatic links have been restored after their breakdown in December 2001, there might be reasons for very cautious optimism. But the only thing that can be hoped for at the moment is that the Delhi-Lahore bus is not stopped again.

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