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India-Pakistan Bus Service Resumes - 2003-07-11


Passenger bus service between India and Pakistan has resumed after a gap of 18 months, sparking further hopes of an end to decades of enmity between the South Asian nations.

Bus service between India's capital New Delhi and the eastern Pakistani city of Lahore resumed early Friday morning.

A Pakistani bus decorated with flowers and a banner hailing resumption of the "friendship" service left Pakistan territory under tight security.

There are 28 passengers aboard, including several journalists.

It is expected to take about 10 hours to reach India's capital, New Delhi, after completing customs formalities at the border.

A two-year-old girl was among the passengers on the first bus. Her mother says the baby has two holes in her heart and she is taking her for treatment in hospital in India.

Passengers and Pakistani officials are hailing the restoration of road links. They say the bus service will not only reunite thousands of divided families but also will improve strained relations between India and Pakistan.

"Most importantly, it will begin to rebuild a certain level of confidence between the peoples of the two countries and there will be a possibility of slowly but gradually normalizing relations between the two states," said Major-General Anees Bajwa of Pakistan's tourism department, which runs the bus service.

India's federal transport minister saw off the first bus departing New Delhi. It carried 32 passengers, mostly journalists. He told reporters that India looks forward to a peaceful solution to all its differences with Pakistan. He is quoted as hoping the peace gesture will be appreciated and Pakistan will end "cross-border terrorism".

Diplomatic and transport links between India and Pakistan were suspended after an attack on India's Parliament 18 month ago. New Delhi blamed Pakistan for sponsoring the attack, a charge Islamabad denied.

The allegations heightened tensions between the rival nations, bringing them to the brink of a third war over Kashmir.

But the two countries have taken several steps since April to normalize relations, including restoration of diplomatic ties and the resumption of the bus service.

India and Pakistan also plan to begin peace talks but they have not indicated when that will happen. The two countries will take part in a regional summit in January in Islamabad. The summit is seen as an opportunity for an informal meeting between Indian and Pakistani leaders.

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