By Alasdair Pal and Mubasher Bukhari
ISLAMABAD/LAHORE (Reuters) – Pakistan said on Saturday it had cancelled a bus linking Lahore with India’s capital New Delhi, the last remaining public transport link between the neighbours divided by a dispute over the Kashmir region.
Islamabad reacted with fury this week after India revoked the special status for the portion of Kashmir that it controls, calling the action illegal, a claim New Delhi denies.
Pakistan has already cut two rail links, suspended bilateral trade and expelled India’s ambassador, all part of what it called a diplomatic effort to protest against the decision.
Arshad Ali, tourism officer at Pakistan Tourism Development Corporation that runs the Pakistan leg of the journey, told Reuters the government had issued directives that meant the bus, that departs Lahore six days a week at 0600 local time, was suspended from Saturday onwards.
“The operation will remain suspended till further decision,” he said.
Delhi Transport Corporation, that runs the service in the other direction, did not respond to requests for comment.
The service, known as the “friendship bus”, has long been seen as a symbolic link between the two countries. Launched in 1999, it has run almost continuously since, including throughout the last crisis between the two countries in February.
Travellers wanting to cross the border can still do so on foot at the sole remaining open border post at Wagah, a process that often takes several hours due to stringent security checks by both sides.
Fewer than 200 people a day now cross the border in the two directions, Indian and Pakistani officials at Wagah told Reuters. One official said it was unlikely the border would be closed despite the deterioration in relationships between the rivals.
With no direct flights, the only other alternatives are costly and lengthy indirect routes, often via the Middle East.
(Reporting by Mubasher Bukhari in Lahore and Alasdair Pal in Islamabad, additional reporting by Promit Mukherjee in Mumbai; Editing by Stephen Powell)