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India, Pakistan Begin Second Kashmir Bus Service


India and Pakistan have launched a second bus service to link the two sides of the divided Himalayan region of Kashmir. The new transport links between the South Asian rivals are the most visible symbol of a two-year-old peace process.

Scores of people in Indian Kashmir cheered and waved flags as the new bus service that will link Poonch in Indian Kashmir to Rawalkot in Pakistan rolled out Tuesday amid heavy security.

In Pakistan, another bus headed toward Indian Kashmir. The buses will stop at the militarized line of control that divides the region. There, passengers will cross the border on foot before being taken in other buses to their destinations.

The 55-kilometer bus route between Poonch and Rawalkot was reopened after a half century of political conflict shut down all links between the Indian and Pakistani sides of Kashmir. The region was divided between the neighbors after they fought a war in 1947.

The first cross-border bus link was opened 14 months ago between Srinagar in Indian Kashmir and Muzaffarabad in Pakistan. It was hailed as a major symbol of peace between the rivals.

In Indian Kashmir, the ruling Congress Party leader, Sonia Gandhi, called the bus an opportunity for the families in the region to reunite.

Gandhi hopes that the new transport links will ultimately result in more trade between the two countries.

Sardar Sikandar Hayat, prime minister of Pakistani Kashmir, called the new service a good omen for the divided families of Kashmir.

The bus services in Kashmir have been called the most significant step taken to restore normalcy to the troubled region since India and Pakistan began peace negotiations two years ago. The slow-moving peace process has seen the rivals bury their open hostility, but has failed to produce a political solution to their conflicting claims to Kashmir.

Abdul Ghani Bhat, a senior leader of the All Parties Huriyat Conference, a grouping of separatist organizations in Indian Kashmir, calls the new transport services a "confidence-building measure" that will help the two countries come closer to a permanent settlement on Kashmir.

"The bus services I think will help in the ultimate analysis in achieving a breakthrough," Bhat says. "It is a first step, we should not expect miracles to happen. Let us hope many more steps follow with a view to achieving a breakthrough in terms of a permanent settlement."

Kashmir has triggered two of the three wars fought between India and Pakistan. But a truce along the Himalayan border has lowered tensions in the last two years and raised hopes that the South Asian rivals will negotiate a solution to the Kashmir dispute.

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