- The Washington Times - Friday, July 11, 2003

NEW DELHI — Dozens of rain-soaked Indian passengers jostled onto a luxury bus yesterday that honked wildly as it headed for Pakistan, resuming a transportation link disrupted 18 months ago by threats of war between the hostile, nuclear-armed neighbors.

Another bus departed shortly afterward from the Pakistani city of Lahore and headed for New Delhi.

“I have a feeling that this time it will continue, the bus will run,” said Laiq Mohammed, 45, an Indian Muslim traveling with his family to his Indian niece’s wedding in Pakistan.

The marriage was delayed when India and Pakistan severed ground and air transportation, withdrew their ambassadors and deployed nearly 1 million troops on their border last year.

“We were so heartbroken,” said Mr. Mohammed’s wife, Sajda Begum. “We just hope that friendship continues between the two countries.”

The preparations for a fourth war in 56 years followed a December 2001 attack on the Indian Parliament that New Delhi blamed on Pakistan’s spy agency and Islamic militants based in the neighboring country.

Pakistan denied involvement and condemned the attack, which killed 19 persons.

International diplomacy helped bring the two countries back from the brink of conflict, and they’re now taking steps to restore ties.

“We are looking forward to a peaceful solution to all the problems. We hope the goodwill gesture will be appreciated and Pakistan will end cross-border terrorism,” said federal Transport Minister Bhuwan Chandra Khanduri, who flagged off the bus in India.

The Indian bus, called “Sada-e-Sarhad” or “Call of the Border,” had the two countries’ flags painted on it, with the words: “A bridge between two nations.” It traveled with a police escort.

Millions of Indian Muslims have relatives across the border in Pakistan, the Islamic nation carved out of the Indian mainland by British colonialists when they left the subcontinent in 1947.

The bus service — one of the few transport links between the two countries — will run twice weekly, sending buses simultaneously from both sides. The 329-mile journey takes about 12 hours, crossing the border at Wagah in Punjab.

From Lahore, Madin Sajjad, a Pakistani chemical factory worker, was traveling to India for treatment of his 1-year-old daughter’s heart ailment.

“I want to save my daughter’s life,” he said. “I believe this bus service will benefit the people of both countries.”

There were 32 passengers on the bus from New Delhi — many of them journalists — and 28 on the bus from Lahore.

About 20 Hindu nationalists waved placards, jostled with police and broke barricades as they ran toward the New Delhi bus station a few minutes after the Indian bus left.

“Stop the bus. Down with Pakistan,” they shouted.

In recent months, the rival countries have renewed efforts to resolve their five-decade dispute over Kashmir, a Himalayan region divided between them by a cease-fire line and claimed by both in its entirety.

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