Birmingham's bus ride to Pakistan

By Andrew Buncombe

A 12-day bus service linking Birmingham with a city in Pakistan has been floated as a means of strengthening ties between the two communities, writes Andrew Buncombe.

Promising a "thrilling ride", Tahir Khokher, the Transport Minister with Pakistan's Azad Jammu and Kashmir (AJK) Regional Government, has suggested a 6450km link between Mirpur and England could be particularly popular with young people and those with a sense of adventure.

The West Midlands has long-established links with the AJK region - the capital, Mirpur, is sometimes called Little England or Little Brum. Birmingham is reputed to be home to the largest population of Pakistani Kashmiris outside the country, many having left in the 1960s after the construction of a major dam.

The route would pass through at least seven countries and cost about $250, a considerable saving on the $1170 of an average flight.

"It could be popular, especially with the young. It would be an experience, an adventure," said Hamza Waris, who works in his family-owned travel company, Pak Travels, in Birmingham's Small Heath area. "It would depend on how things were in Pakistan and in the countries on route."

The route will pass through Iran, Turkey, Bulgaria and Serbia before reaching Western Europe. It is being proposed that four buses will travel in a fortnightly convoy.

Khokher was not available for comment. But the politician was quoted by the Birmingham Mail as saying that certain logistical hurdles had to be jumped before the service started.

"We are a little behind schedule with our plans because of negotiations with transport companies and bureaucratic hold-ups," he said. "The Azad Jammu and Kashmir Government will also set up a swift counter system to hasten the visa process for those who don't have a British passport."

On the issue of potential dangers, he added: "I don't feel that security will be a problem. The Government is responsible for the security. Barring one or two instances in Quetta, the overall situation is good to go."

Although the journey would be daunting, the overland route to Asia is nothing new. Many migrants to Britain from South Asia used it in the 1970s and 1980s and the route was adopted by hippies and backpackers until Iran and Afghanistan became too dangerous.

Indeed between 1968 and 1976, a British-built double-decker bus, nicknamed Albert, made 15 trips between India and the UK.

- Independent

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