Kashmiri Separatists Go To Pakistan's Capital
4 June 2005
Islamabad: Pakistan's President Pervez Musharraf hailed the arrival of separatist leaders from Indian Kashmir in Islamabad on Saturday as a sign of the flexibility shown by his government and India in their search for peace. Musharraf, who will meet the separatist leaders on Tuesday, seized on the compromise reached to allow them to travel without Indian passports or Pakistani visas, saying it held 'very great political significance'. 'It is a recognition by both India and Pakistan of the disputed status of Kashmir, the IHK,' he said, referring to Indian-held Kashmir. 'It is a great leap forward in understanding, the flexibility being shown by both sides,' he told reporters before leaving on a visit to the United Arab Emirates and Qatar. There was no immediate Indian reaction to the arrival of the delegation from the All Parties Hurriyat Conference in Islamabad. It is the first time the Indian government has allowed Kashmiri separatists to cross the border and hold talks with politicians in Pakistani Kashmir and the Pakistani officials. New Delhi initially said the separatists would not be allowed to travel outside Pakistan's part of Kashmir but the Indian foreign ministry took a permissive stand last week saying it was up to Pakistan if the Hurriyat leaders were invited. Having arrived to a heroes' welcome when they crossed the ceasefire line two days ago, the visitors from Indian Kashmir delivered stirring speeches on Friday to the legislative assembly of Azad Kashmir, as Pakistan calls its part of Kashmir. On Saturday, Syed Faisal Saleh Hayat, Pakistan's Minister for Kashmir Affairs and the Northern Areas, hosted the nine Hurriyat leaders and other rebel groups for a lunch. The visiting leaders are regarded as moderates, who want some form of independence for Kashmiris. Hardliners, who have fought for all of Kashmir to belong to Pakistan, spurned the invitation to come across the border in a protest against what they see as Musharraf's attempt to reach an accommodation with India over Kashmir. More than 45,000 people have been killed in the violence that began when a Muslim separatist uprising erupted in the Kashmir Valley in 1989. Musharraf said the separatists' visit should lead to discussions on resolving the dispute over Kashmir, which has been the cause of two of the three wars between Indian and Pakistan since independence from Britain in 1947. Upon arrival in Islamabad, the separatist leaders warned India and Pakistan against cutting them out of the peace process. 'No bilateralism or bilateral talks can resolve the Kashmir issue,' delegation leader Mirwaiz Umar Farooq told reporters. 'We want that this issue should be resolved through a dialogue process, but we also want that no step should be taken ... until Kashmiris are taken into confidence.' India and Pakistan began their peace process in early 2004, but the most tangible sign of progress so far has been the start of a bus service across the ceasefire line to help reunite Kashmiri families separated for more than half a century.