- The Washington Times - Friday, June 20, 2003

NEW DELHI (Agence France-Presse) — Amid an easing of tensions, Indian and Pakistani teams agreed in principle this week to resume bus service between the two countries after a 1-year hiatus.

“If things work out, we are ready to start the bus by July 1, and if Pakistan is ready, at a mutually agreeable date it will be started,” Indian Foreign Ministry spokesman Navtej Sarna told reporters.

“Operationally and technically, we are ready to run the buses,” said Delhi Transport Corp. Chairman A.J.S. Sahani, who led the Indian side in the hourlong talks.

The head of the three-member Pakistani delegation, Afzar Shafqat, who is deputy managing director of the Pakistan Tourism Development Corp., said: “We had agreement on all operational matters.”

However, potential passengers still need to be issued visas and travel documents by the respective governments before the first run. Some minor issues also remain to be ironed out, such as how to arrange payment for expenses, including fuel for the vehicles.

Pakistani transport authorities agreed to pay up front $10,755 of the total $51,620 owed to their Indian counterparts, officials said.

The two sides agreed to keep the service biweekly without any change in fares from the previous time it ran.

The bus service was inaugurated in 1999 by Indian Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee, who traveled to Lahore and held a summit with Nawaz Sharif, then Pakistan’s prime minister.

It was closed down in December 2001 after an attack on the Indian Parliament that New Delhi said was masterminded by Pakistani intelligence agencies. Pakistan denied the charge.

After the attack, the South Asian rivals deployed nearly a million troops on their common border and were on the verge of war.

The forces were pulled back after intense international diplomacy last year, and tensions eased in April when Mr. Vajpayee offered a “hand of friendship” to Pakistan.

Air links between India and Pakistan remain severed. The Indian spokesman said New Delhi is still waiting for clarification from Pakistan on overflights.

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