India plans meeting of Azad, Sikandar
25 March 2006
The Daily Times
New Delhi: The Indian establishment is working on arranging the first-ever bilateral meeting of the heads of government of Indian and Pakistani- controlled Kashmir. The move appears to be a follow-up of Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh’s speech on Friday at the inauguration of the Amritsar-Nankana Sahib bus service. Singh said then that he envisaged a situation where the two parts of Kashmir work out cooperative, consultative mechanisms to maximise the gains of cooperation in solving problems of social and economic development of the region with the active encouragement of the governments of India and Pakistan. Kashmir analysts also point to Singh’s suggestion that “both sides should begin a dialogue with the people in their areas of control to improve quality of governances to give the people on both sides a greater chance of leading a life of dignity and self-respect”. The proposed meeting between Indian-held Kashmir (IHK) Chief Minister Ghulam Nabi Azad and Azad Jammu and Kashmir (AJK) Prime Minister Sardar Sikander Hayat Khan will take place after consultations with the Pakistan government, a source here said. However, the source insisted that such a meeting would only be an extension of the people-to-people contact promoted by New Delhi and Islamabad, akin to the bus service between Srinagar and Muzaffarabad or the opening of the Line of Control following the October 8 earthquake. The sources believe such a meeting would also meet with approval from Kashmiri leaders, who insist that Kashmiris should be heavily involved in solving the dispute over the region. Singh also offered a “bilateral treaty of peace, security and friendship” to Pakistan, and sources here said he would travel to Islamabad in late July or early August to materialise such a treaty. President Gen Pervez Musharraf invited Singh to Islamabad last year, but the Indian security establishment was opposed to the visit, because, according to them, “no meeting ground was possible on any contentious issue”. The other concern was that Gen Musharraf might use the visit to “grandstand” on Kashmir. Leading Indian diplomatic writer Sidharath Vardarajan wrote in the Hindu that Singh has signalled a new readiness in New Delhi to embrace fresh ideas in search of “pragmatic, practical solutions” to the problems of the disputed region.