Thursday 27 September 2012

Birmingham to Mirpur Bus Service: Security Fears Raised

Plans have been unveiled for a 12-day, 4,000-mile trip that will take passengers from Birmingham to Pakistan. Travellers will pay £130 for a ticket between Birmingham and Mirpur, the city dubbed 'Little Birmingham' on the route that recreates the old hippie trail. But already a Birmingham MP has raised fears around security for the trip, which visits cities that have reportedly become hotbeds of terrorism and have links to the Taliban.

The region's transport minister Tahir Khokher says the intercontinental route will span seven countries and include stop-overs in the troubled cities of Quetta, near the Afghan border, and the Iranian capital Tehran. Mr Khokher has promised 'a thrilling ride with particular arrangements for sightseeing, camping and restauranteering.' It will wind through Belgium, France, Germany,France, Austria, Slovenia, Croatia, Serbia and Bulgaria.

The bus will then wander through Turkey and Iran, before finally arriving in Pakistan. Troubled cities including Quetta and Mirpur are notorious for gun fights, with the Deputy Director of Geological Survey of Pakistan reportedly gunned down today, The News International reported. There are concerns that the route could transport terrorists from Birmingham to Pakistan. Since the September 11 attacks in 2001 in America, there have been a string of arrests relating to terrorist charges in the Sparkhill, Birmingham area. The long distance plans were last night welcomed by Birmingham Labour MP Khalid Mahmood, whose family originate from Mirpur. But he has warned that the Pakistani government would need to give assurances that security would be tightly controlled and strict border checks would have to be in place for the journey to be safe and successful. 

He said: 'My concern is about security - Quetta in Pakista does have Taliban issues. 'if there could be a guarantee from the Pakistani government that there would be rigorous security checks I think it would be a great opportunity for young people to drive through Europe and would be a good education to see and visit many different countries. 'This used to be a popular route in the 1970s but the security circumstances have now changed. 'I think it's a great idea that will bring the two cities closer together and be a real life experience, particularly for younger people both here and in Kashmir. 'I'm sure the service would prove very popular, especially with average air fares to Pakistan being about £600.' The plans will inevitably prompt fears that the service could be used to transport terrorists to and from Pakistan - but the service will be subject to the UK Border Agency's strict checks at the border like every other vehicle and passenger wanting to leave or enter the country.

A Border Force spokesman said: 'All passengers entering the country must go through our border controls, where full security checks are carried out.' Mr Mahmood's views were echoed by former Justice for Kashmir city councillor Mohammed Nazam, who said earlier generations often made the trip from the UK to Pakistan by road. 'In the 1970s and 80s people would drive a van from the UK to Kashmir and it would take about ten or twelve days of hard driving, day and night,' he said. 'Even in those days it was a real adventure. 'But the world isn't as safe a place as it used to be.' The 3,819 mile proposed route will cross Pakistan, Iran, Turkey, Serbia and Belgium before arriving in Birmingham.

Security concerns, particularly surrounding the volatile city of Quetta where top Taliban commanders are believed to be in hiding, have been dismissed by Mr Khokher. 'I don't feel that security will be a problem,' he said. 'The government is responsible for the security. 'Barring one or two instances in Quetta, the overall situation is good to go.' Birmingham is home to the world's largest population of Kashmiri expatriates, many having emigrated from Mirpur in the 1960s after being displaced by the building of a dam.

The picturesque city nestling in the Himalayan foothills soon came to be known as Little Birmingham and is famed for its grand villas and mansions built by wealthy ex-pats who pay regular visits. Mr Khokher says he hopes the service will strengthen ties and tourism between the two cities, which have strong family and business links. 'We are a little behind schedule with our plans because of negotiations with transport companies and bureaucratic hold-ups,' he said. 'But we are proposing to run four luxury buses once a fortnight. '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.'

Reported by Daily Mail UK:

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