Kashmir Leaders Head For Pakistan
1 June 2005
Islamabad: Top Kashmiri moderates are set to cross the Line of Control on Thursday for landmark talks with Pakistani leaders. India has allowed the separatist delegation to go to Islamabad provided they travel on Indian passports. 'An Indian official told us to apply for passports and we have done that,' said separatist leader Shabbir Shah. The decision removes the last hurdle in the way of a visit expected to carry forward the peace process. Hardliners turned down a chance to participate. Kashmir dispute They are angry at what they say is a shift in Pakistan's policy over Kashmir. It is the first time India has allowed Kashmiri separatist leaders to travel from territory it administers to Pakistan as a representative group. Pakistan and India have fought two of their three wars over the disputed Himalayan region since independence in 1947, but began peace talks 18 months ago. 'Big step' Eleven leaders from Indian- administered Kashmir - most belonging to the moderate faction of the All Parties Hurriyat Conference - are expected to board the new bus service that links Srinagar and Muzaffarabad. We want to know the stand of Pakistani people and politicians in resolving the dispute Mirwaiz Umar Farooq, separatist leader They were invited to Islamabad 10 days ago by the Pakistani government. Until Tuesday, their tour itinerary was not clear. The Indian government had insisted they could not go into Pakistan itself. Delhi said permits for the new bus service were valid only for Pakistan-administered Kashmir, but relented at the 11th hour. 'Going to Pakistan will be a big step towards resolving the Kashmir issue,' moderate separatist leader Mirwaiz Umar Farooq said. 'We want to know the stand of Pakistani people and politicians in resolving the dispute.' Doves The delegation will be received by the prime minister of Pakistan- administered Kashmir at the Kaman post on the Line of Control that divides the disputed territory. Cabinet ministers, assembly members, leaders of various political parties and other senior officials will accompany the prime minister. The BBC's Zulfiqar Ali in Muzaffarabad says doves will be freed to symbolise the emphasis on peace as the leaders cross into Pakistan-administered territory. Members of the public will also be allowed to meet the Kashmiri leaders at the media centre some 2km from the Kaman post. The BBC's Altaf Hussain in Srinagar says it is not yet clear whether the Indian delegation will also be meeting militant leaders based in Pakistan. The United Jihad Council, an umbrella organisation for Pakistan-based militant groups, decided on Wednesday not to meet the delegation officially. But it may allow militant leaders to meet the Indian delegation in their individual capacity, says our correspondent. 'Meeting with militants will be at the top of our agenda,' Mr Farooq told the AFP news agency.