Kashmir Political Separatists Invited To Pakistan
23 May 2005
Islamabad: Pakistan said on Monday it had invited the leaders of Indian Kashmir's main political separatist alliance to visit the country next month, despite past objections by India. Pakistan Foreign Ministry spokesman Jalil Abbas Jilani told a news conference the invitation had been extended to all leaders of the All Parties Hurriyat Conference, an alliance of about two dozen political groups, to make the trip on June 2. Jilani said Hurriyat leaders should not have a problem coming to Pakistan since a bus service between Indian and Pakistani Kashmir was launched on April 7 as part of a peace process resumed at the start of last year. 'Now that the bus service has started, we have extended an invitation and we understand that they would not have any problem because the bus service is meant to facilitate the travel of the Kashmiris,' Jilani said. 'Accordingly, we hope and we expect, they would be able to visit Pakistan,' he said. India has in the past not been keen to allow Hurriyat leaders, some of whom are seeking independence for Kashmir and others a merger with Pakistan, to travel to Pakistan. But analysts said Jammu and Kashmir Chief Minister Mufti Mohammad Syed had supported plans to allow Hurriyat leaders to visit Pakistan on the Kashmir bus and New Delhi was unlikely to stop them. Hurriyat leaders said they had yet to receive an official invitation from Pakistan. 'We have heard that we might be invited and when the invitation comes we will discuss and take a decision,' Mirwaiz Umar Farooq, head of the moderate faction of the Hurriyat, told Reuters. An aide to Syed Ali Shah Geelani, head of the hardline faction of Hurriyat, said Geelani had also not received a formal invitation and the executive council of the faction would decide on it after one was received. The hardline faction, supported by militant groups, broke away in 2003 due to its opposition to peace talks with New Delhi. Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf met Hurriyat leaders last month when he made his first visit to New Delhi since a disastrous summit in 2001 and urged unity. He held talks with Indian Prime Minister and afterwards described the peace process as irreversible. Jilani said Hurriyat leaders would be allowed to travel to any part of Pakistan they wished to visit. He also said that Indian opposition leader and former deputy prime minister Lal Krishna Advani, a hardline Hindu nationalist, would visit Pakistan on May 30 and would meet Musharraf and Prime Minister Shaukat Aziz. Kashmir is at the heart of half a century of enmity between India and Pakistan. They have fought two of their three wars since independence from Britain in 1947 over the region and went to the brink of another over the territory in 2002.