March 2004 News

Pak Envoy Party Invite Is Status Mark In J&K

22 March 2004
The Asian Age

Srinagar: A splendid reception is planned at the Pakistan high commission in New Delhi on Tuesday evening to mark the neighbouring country's National Day and many of the guests will be from Jammu and Kashmir. Very few of about 200 Kashmiri invitees have decided not to go, or have displayed indifference. The rest see it as an honour. Some are even publicly boasting about being invited to the reception. Those political activists and others who are believed to be desperate to restore images tarnished by their dilly-dallying posture on the Kashmir question, or simply want to play to the pro-Pakistan gallery back home, are out to make it known. And when they behave in such fashion, why should the pro-Pakistanis trail behind? To their satisfaction, the local newspapers are playing catalyst for all of them. A prominent separatist leader, on receiving the invitation, sent an emissary to a vernacular newspaper editor to request him to give it publicity. The latter chose to add some spice to the invitation by suggesting through the columns of his newspaper that the invitee has been asked to discuss the Kashmir situation with the host, Pakistan high commissioner Aziz Ahmed Khan. Paradoxically, a report about the reception in another local daily the same day prominently mentioned the names of the Kashmiri journalists invited by Mr Khan but made only a trivial reference to other invitees. It is needless to say here that the editor, owner and publisher of this newspaper is among the invitees from the fourth estate. It would be somewhat unfair to bracket slain leader Abdul Gani Lone's charismatic daughter, Ms Shabnam Lone, with this set. The Kashmiri attorney is considered an important guest for Mr Khan. Her two brothers, Bilal Gani Lone and Sajjad Gani Lone, have recently fallen apart, resulting in the split in the senior Lone's legacy - the People's Conference. Since both are being labelled as close to New Delhi notwithstanding strong denials from them, some of the late leader's close friends and well-wishers are making an effort to bring in Ms Shabnam Lone. Kashmir watchers say both India and Pakistan would like the leader of the PC on their side because it is an important constituent of the Hurriyat Conference (Abbas). Ms Lone is among the few Kashmiris who attended the iftar party at the Pakistan high commission in November 2003. She, too, could not resist getting published in a vernacular daily the news that she intends to attend the Pakistan Day reception. [It is pertinent to mention here that following the split, Mr Sajjad Lone declared his faction of the PC would have nothing to do with the Hurriyat, which had already recognised the Bilal Lone-led PC as the real one.] The Hurriyat faction led by Maulvi Abbas Ansari has, apparently in a balancing act, decided to attend the March 23 reception. The Hurriyat delegation that is scheduled to meet deputy prime minister L.K. Advani for the second round of peace talks on March 27, will first drop in at the Pakistan high commission on Tuesday for the reception. Kashmir watchers say the conglomerate faction, which had boycotted a couple of such events, including the last Pakistan high commission iftar party, because the hosts had addressed Syed Ali Shah Geelani, and not Maulvi Abbas, as the Hurriyat Conference chairman, has tried not only to play to the pro- Pakistan gallery, but also to assuage criticism within and outside the conglomerate for entering into a dialogue with the Centre. Mr Syed Geelani is already camping in New Delhi, primarily for a medical check-up, and is reported to have held a long meeting with Mr Khan last week. He will be joined by a group of his Hurriyat's second-rung leaders for the reception on Tuesday. Mr Syed Geelani and his colleagues could not make it to the last iftar party because their flight from Srinagar to New Delhi was cancelled due to inclement weather. The others who have been invited by Mr Khan include JKLF chief Yasin Malik, Democratic Freedom Party leader Syed Shabir Ahmed Shah, People's League leader Sheikh Abdul Aziz and a host of other people, ranging from politicians to trade union leaders to social activists to journalists. Surprisingly, the leaders of the Jammu and Kashmir Government Employees' Conference also figure in the list. Some of them are already on way to New Delhi to attend the reception. A statement issued by the trade union at the weekend said a meeting of the organisation held with acting president Gulam Rasool Ganai in the chair thanked the Pakistan high commissioner for inviting its leaders and added that its president, Mr Mushtaq Ahmed Butt, had already reached New Delhi where he would be joined by three other senior trade union leaders to attend the reception.


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