Kashmiris Head For Mecca To Pray For Peace

20 October 2009

Srinagar: More than 400 Muslims from Kashmir headed Tuesday for the annual hajj pilgrimage, with many saying they would pray for peace in the Indian-administered state and neighbouring Pakistan. The first batch of pilgrims were due to fly to Jeddah in Saudi Arabia late Tuesday where they will tour holy sites before taking part in the pilgrimage to Mecca, which starts late November. 'My preference will be to pray for peace in Kashmir and Pakistan,' said Nissar Ahmed, a 39-year Kashmiri, as he prepared to board the plane. The subsided airfare on state-run Air India for hajj pilgrims has this year been increased for the first time in 15 years, up a third to 16,000 rupees (350 dollars), according to the Hindustan Times newspaper. The government increased the price to reduce its subsidy for the pilgrims, which reached 4.0-5.0 billion rupees in previous years, the report said. The Times of India said 167,000 pilgrims would leave India for Mecca, all issued with a mandatory health certificate saying they are free from swine flu. Kashmiri Muslims are strongly attached to Islamic Pakistan and recurring violence there is a source of concern among many residents here. 'In every prayer, I will urge a return of complete peace to Kashmir and an end to violence in Pakistan,' said Afaq Qadri, 45, a businessman, who was heading to Mecca with his mother, wife and two-year-old son. Indian Kashmir has been rocked by violence for the last 20 years due to an armed struggle against New Delhi's rule that has left over 47,000 people dead by an official count. Pakistan, which holds one-third of the Kashmir region, is accused by India of arming and funding the unrest, an accusation Islamabad denies. The neighbours have fought two of their three wars over Kashmir but violence has dropped sharply since they started a peace process in 2004.