July 2001 News

Controversy over Musharraf-Hurriyat meet intensifies

6 July 2001
The Times of India
The Times of India News Service

NEW DELHI: The controversy over President Pervez Musharraf meeting Hurriyat leaders during his visit to India intensified on Friday with India telling Pakistan not to focus on "extraneous issues" even as Islamabad justified the move. "It is important to ensure that correct priorities are not lost sight of and extraneous issues should not be given importance," an external affairs ministry spokesman told reporters. She was asked about Islamabad's assertion that the Hurriyat leaders would be invited to the reception hosted for Musharraf by Pakistan high commissioner Ashraf Jehangir Qazi in Delhi on July 14. Meanwhile, the Pakistan foreign office spokesman said in Islamabad that the Hurriyat leaders have been invited in the past. "In the same tradition, the invitation will be extended to them". India has conveyed reservations over the Pakistan president meeting with the Hurriyat leaders during the visit, saying the conglomerate of 23 separatist organisations has no role to play during the Musharraf-Vajpayee summit. Maintaining that Pakistan looked forward to a positive result out of July 15 Musharraf-Vajpayee summit in Agra, foreign office spokesman Riaz Mohammad Khan, defended the move to invite the Hurriyat leaders at the reception saying they had been invited in the past for all the important occasions like the country's national day. Pakistan believed that involvement of the Kashmiri separatist alliance was necessary for settlement of the Kashmir issue, he said. Khan, however, said no invitation had been sent to Hurriyat leaders so far as the president's programmes were yet to be finalised. He declined to comment when asked about the Indian stand that the invitations to the Hurriyat leader was a "non- issue". Khan said Pakistan would focus on the Kashmir issue at the summit since "Kashmir is the root cause of the tension between Pakistan and India. The issue has to be meaningfully addressed," he said expressing the hope that the summit would lead to the process of finding a solution to the problem "in accordance with the wishes of Kashmiris". Other bilateral matters could be taken up at the foreign secretary level talks when they resume, Khan said. Prime Minister Vajpayee, however, continues his peace initiatives nevertheless. He has instructed the Director General Military Operations of the Army to visit Pakistan and discuss ways and means of strengthening peace along the Line of Control and in the Siachen region. In a statement on Friday, the government said this move was an outcome of the "relative quiet prevailing along the LoC and the AGPL (Agreed Ground Position Line)". The statement did not specify the time-frame in which the instruction was to be carried out, laying down only that it be "at an early date of mutual convenience". The Prime Minister has also ordered the external affairs ministry to propose an official experts" level dialogue with Pakistan on security concepts and nuclear confidence-building measures. In doing so, the government is seeking to move ahead on the MoU signed between Indian and Pakistani officials during the Prime Minister's visit to Lahore in February 1999. The Prime Minister's instructions are being seen as a continuing effort by India to set the stage for the Agra summit. It is also a signal that the summit will examine the whole range of issues rather than remain focused on Kashmir. Former Pakistani premier Benazir Bhutto, meanwhile, cautioned India, saying it was making a "colossal mistake" if it believed that Musharraf was going to play peace card at the Agra Summit. She warned the military ruler of a "backlash" after the talks as he lacked the mandate to represent the country. "This entire visit is geared to take pressure off from Afghanistan," she said on BBC's Hardtalk Pakistan programme. Bhutto, who is in exile in London, said, "New Delhi is making a colossal mistake if it believed that Gen Musharraf is going to play a peace card to sustain himself in power". She said when Prime Minister Vajpayee undertook the Lahore initiative in February 1999, there was a backlash. "Musharraf can go to New Delhi but there will be a backlash," she said. ermitted 600 items to be traded between the two countries.


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