Atrocity cannot be allowed to deflect peace process

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 20 February, 2007, 12:00am
UPDATED : Tuesday, 20 February, 2007, 12:00am

The leaders of India and Pakistan must not let the horrific attack on a train travelling between the rival nations get in the way of the peace process between the two nations. Those wanting to sabotage their efforts cannot be allowed to hold sway.

Whoever bombed the Samjhauta Express clearly wanted the process to fail. Coming the day before Pakistani Foreign Minister Khurshid Kasuri was due to arrive in New Delhi for the latest round of talks and targeting the most visible sign of warming ties, the message was obvious.

The fire in which scores of passengers, mostly Pakistanis, were killed, should be given the fullest attention by investigators. Whether those responsible were Hindu, Muslim or from any of the separatist or extremist groups in either nation, the perpetrators have to be found quickly and brought to justice.

The atrocity, however, cannot be allowed to sideline the progress made since both sides agreed to a ceasefire across the border of the disputed region of Kashmir in November 2003.

Since then, given the wars waged since the carving of Muslim-majority Pakistan from the Indian sub-continent almost 59 years ago, the progress made in peace negotiations has been impressive. Direct air links were resumed the month after the ceasefire and overflights permitted, followed by a restoration of bus and rail services.

The transport links are the clearest proof of the mutual trust India and Pakistan have pledged to build as part of the 'composite dialogue' started in February 2004. As such, they are a crucial symbol of the partnership - hence the targeting of one of the two so-called peace trains yesterday.

So far, the process has proven resilient to such outrages. An attack by extremists on the Indian parliament in 2001, which brought the countries to the brink of war, pointed to the need for peace. With India and Pakistan nuclear-capable, the risk of another war has to be minimised. The lesson would seem to have been learned, with both governments dedicated to the need for talk rather than the sabre-rattling of the past. Kashmir remains the thorniest issue and will be the last topic broached. But ensuring that moment of discussion can be safely arrived at is as important for negotiators.

For that reason, politics and atrocities committed against Hindus and Muslims in recent years have rarely got in the way of discussions. Both countries realise the need for calm and that stability on the sub-continent has to have the foremost priority.

People wanting nothing to do with peace between India and Pakistan attempted to thwart that process yesterday. They chose the highest-profile target possible, causing carnage in hopes of destroying in just moments, through a bomb blast, what has taken years of diplomacy to achieve.

As horrific as the circumstances of their actions are, the leaders of the rival nations must not be budged from their pursuit of peace by such an insidiously evil ploy. Officials have to push ahead regardless, doing their utmost to ensure that Indians and Pakistanis can one day live in harmony and stability.