By Naween A. Mangi Call it cricket diplomacy. When Pakistan's President Pervez Musharraf joins Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh in New Delhi to watch a cricket match between their national teams on Apr. 17, they'll likely discuss far more than the sport's greatest rivalry. Expectations are high that the leaders will agree on the next steps toward negotiating a resolution of the decades-old conflict over the disputed territory of Kashmir.
"What started as a visit to watch cricket has turned out to be [an] important summit," says Nasim Zehra, an Islamabad-based political analyst and fellow of Harvard University's Asia Center. "We expect to see substantive discussions on Kashmir taking place."
EMOTION AND CELEBRATION. Such talks would add to the feel-good factor between the two countries, at its highest since peace talks resumed in January, 2004. On Apr. 7, a new bus service took its maiden journey across the line separating the Indian- and Pakistan-controlled parts of the territory. Some 19 passengers traveled from Srinagar in Indian-controlled Kashmir to Muzaffarabad in Pakistan-controlled Kashmir, and 31 passengers traveled in the opposite direction. For the first time in 57 years, families divided by partition were united amid a great show of emotion and celebration.
"This is the first time a link has been restored in a divided land in so long," says Anis Haroon, secretary-general of the Pak India People's Forum for Peace & Democracy, a Karachi-based civic organization. Now if the Musharraf-Singh meeting goes well, travel restrictions on politicians may be lifted, and more routes across the border could open up.
Behind the scenes, preparations for Musharraf's visit have been brisk. Unofficial diplomacy has taken place between leaders of the two sides, and they've issued statements aplenty that Kashmir is on the agenda for the talks.
CONCRETE STEPS? At the very least, a strong joint statement outlining the next step is expected from the meeting. Musharraf has already hinted at what he sees as the way forward. In an Apr. 11 meeting with the All-Parties Hurriyat Conference, a group of Kashmiri leaders pushing for independence, the President said he would formally invite them to Pakistan and also ask India to start a dialogue with them. Musharraf hopes this can pave the way for a tripartite resolution. Singh has said India doesn't want a deadline imposed on negotiations.
In the meantime, the two sides will have to find a way to stem the continuing violence. Ten people were killed and 20 injured in a grenade attack and clashes between militants and security forces in Kashmir on Apr. 10. Before that, on the eve of the maiden bus journey, a grenade attack hit passengers at the bus shelter, and four militant groups threatened to attack the Kashmir bus. And on Apr. 14, four groups that claimed responsibility for the bus-shelter attack warned that passengers set to travel on the next bus trip on Apr. 21 were putting their lives at risk.
More than 45,000 people have been killed in the conflict over Kashmir since 1989, although violence has dipped since the talks began. A negotiated solution is probably still a long way off, but the Kashmir bus service and cricket diplomacy could finally lead to more concrete steps toward peace. Mangi is a correspondent for BusinessWeek in Karachi