After Europe, Mirwaiz Says Next Stop Pak
25 December 2006
The Indian Express
Srinagar: On an European tour, Hurriyat chairman Mirwaiz Umar Farooq has said his back channels with the Central Government are open and that he will follow up his current tour with a visit to Pakistan in January. Mirwaiz, who of late has emerged as a sort of consensus separatist leader in the Valley between India and Pakistan, is pursuing what Hurriyat says 'an awareness campaign on Kashmir'. Mirwaiz's tour began on December 10 when he left for Ireland to study the Irish peace plan - also called the Good Friday Agreement - that ended a long bloody conflict over the future of Northern Ireland. According to former Hurriyat chief Abdul Ghani Bhat, the tour was in pursuit of a study to see if 'we could replicate the same in Kashmir.' Subsequently, the Hurriyat chief reached Norway on December 17 seeking meetings with parliamentarians and government officials, besides consultations with the Norwegian Parliamentary Kashmir Committee. The Norway visit is seen as significant by the Hurriyat leadership given the country's mediatory role in Palestine and Sri Lanka. In fact, Mirwaiz met former Norwegian prime minister Kjell Magne Bondevik, who now heads the Oslo Centre for Peace and Human Rights, a think-tank working for the reconciliation efforts around the world. Mirwaiz has also met President of Parliament and former prime minister Thorbjorn Jagland and State Secretary Raymond Johanson. Johanson has reportedly turned down Mirwaiz's appeal for intervention in Kashmir, explaining that there was 'no clear invitation from India and Pakistan for Norway to play a role'. His next stop was London, where a reception hosted for him by Dewsbury MP Shahid Malik on December 20 was attended by a select gathering of councillors, mayors, intellectuals, journalists as well as Pakistani High Commissioner to Britain Maleeha Lodhi. Presently at Belgium's capital and headquarters of the European Union - Brussels - top on Mirwaiz's agenda is to register Hurriyat's protest against the recent EU Foreign Relations Committee Report on Kashmir, which ruled out the plebiscite option as 'out of step with the reality.' The report, formulated by British member of European Parliament Baronnes Emma Nicholson, has become a subject matter of controversy with Pakistan and Kashmiri separatists terming it as 'biased'. Mirwaiz, who will return to India on December 28, will lead a high-level delegation to Pakistan sometime in January 2007. Talking to The Indian Express, he said, 'In Islamabad, Hurriyat will seek a role for itself in the peace process and contribute its own inputs backed by a new understanding of the ground-level working of the Irish agreement,' adding that he was open to talks with the Centre provided 'it is Prime Minister himself'. 'Back channels with the Centre are on. But we will meet the Prime Minister only.' Asked whether Musharraf's recent four-point proposal hadn't already compromised Hurriyat position in the peace process, Mirwaiz said the Pakistan President had already taken the grouping into confidence. 'Hasn't Hurriyat leadership personally met him (Musharraf) several times in recent past,' he said. 'We have already been taken into confidence'.