May 2004 News

Mehbooba Asks Delhi To Let Pakistanis Visit J&K

27 May 2004
The Asian Age

New Delhi: People's Democratic Party leader Mehbooba Mufti has asked the Centre to throw Jammu and Kashmir open for visitors from Pakistan. The PDP leader disclosed this after her meeting with Union home minister Shivraj Patil here on Thursday. She said Pakistani visitors should be allowed to travel to Kashmir so they 'satisfy' themselves after seeing firsthand the conditions there. Both India and Pakistan allow travellers from each other's countries to visit a select number of places, specified on the visa. Kashmir is particularly out of bounds for Pakistanis: even diplomats from that country were barred from visiting Jammu and Kashmir during the last Assembly elections when New Delhi actively encouraged diplomats from other nations to see the conduct of polls there firsthand. But as part of the peace process initiated by former Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee, there has been talk of allowing Kashmiris from both sides of the Line of Control to travel across by road. Mehbooba Mufti's suggestion, however, goes beyond the opening of the Uri-Muzaffarabad road, which is among the confidence-building measures the two sides are supposed to discuss. Mehbooba Mufti, whose father Mufti Muhammad Sayeed heads the PDP-Congress government in the state, was told by Mr Patil that the new government at the Centre will continue the dialogue with the separatist All Parties Hurriyat Conference as well as with Islamabad. She hoped the dialogue will lead to a 'final solution' in Kashmir. All over the world, she told reporters later, there was a realisation now that guns - 'any type of guns' (believed to be a reference to the use of force by the security forces) - could not settle disputes. She felt single incidents like the recent landmine blast on the Jammu-Srinagar road could not undermine the peace process. 'To be brutally frank,' she told reporters, such acts could not be ruled out till the 'root cause' was addressed. The newly-elected PDP MP also asked Mr Patil to ensure that families of Kashmiris who get picked up on suspicion when they travel outside the state should be told about their fate. Any agency that arrests a Kashmiri outside Jammu and Kashmir should tell the state government about it within 48 hours, so that the family members are kept informed. Mr N.N. Vohra, the Centre's interlocutor on Jammu and Kashmir with the previous government, also met Mr Patil on Thursday; his second meeting in two days. Mr Vohra took well over an hour to brief the home minister about the two rounds of talks between the Hurriyat Conference and former deputy prime minister L.K. Advani. 'I have put him in the picture from day one (of the talks with the Hurriyat),' he told reporters. He said the minister will talk to others now and decide what is to be done next in the dialogue process. Mr Vohra wouldn't say if he would get to keep the interlocutor's job which he had with the previous government. Asked about his own role in the dialogue ahead, he said: 'I can't give an answer to that as of today.'


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