Pakistan and India agreed to start new cross-border bus service

Pakistan and India agreed on Wednesday to start a new cross-border bus service early next year, another step in their efforts to improve relations. The two countries signed an agreement for the bus service to start Jan. 20 after a two-day meeting between transport officials in the eastern Pakistani city of Lahore.

Under the agreement, two buses, once every week, will operate between Lahore and the Indian city of Amritsar. The bus service from Amritsar to Lahore will start Jan. 24, four days after the first bus departs Lahore, said Mohammed Abbas, a senior Pakistani Communication Ministry official.

"This service is aimed at providing more facilities to the people of both the countries," he said at a joint news conference with his Indian counterpart, Saroj Kumar Dash. Earlier this month, the two countries carried out trial runs of the Lahore-Amritsar bus service. The new service will be a boon for Indian Sikh pilgrims, who regularly visit their religious holy places in Pakistan, including the town of Nankana Sahib, northwest of Lahore, where one of the main temples is located.

The two sides also agreed to start on Jan. 27 trial runs for a bus service between Amritsar, a mainly Sikh city, and Nankana Sahib, a month before formal opening of the service, Abbas said. Earlier this year, Pakistan and India set up a bus link between Lahore and the Indian capital, New Delhi, and in April, they started buses across their heavily militarized frontier in Kashmir, a disputed Himalayan region.

The dispute over Kashmir has been the main cause of hostile relations between India and Pakistan, leading them to fight two wars since their independence in 1947. More than 1 1/2 years ago, however, the nuclear-armed rivals started a series of negotiations to settle the Kashmir dispute and other minor conflicts.

The two countries have restored full diplomatic ties, travel links and eased restrictions for civilians traveling between them, reports the AP. I.L.