Pakistan Denies Mehbooba Visa, She Says No Big Deal

20 December 2009
The Indian Express
Royaz Wani

Srinagar: In a stark signal that the bonhomie between Kashmiri mainstream political parties and Pakistan may be drawing to a close, Islamabad on Sunday denied a visa to PDP chief Mehbooba Mufti to visit the country for a conference. “I have not got the visa,” Mehbooba told The Indian Express. “But so what? It is their prerogative to either give or deny me a visa.” Shah Zaman Khan, Minister, Press at the Pakistani mission in New Delhi, however, said Mehbooba had not been denied a visa yet. “She is a political personality. And therefore her visa has been sent to the Interior Division in Islamabad,” Khan told The Indian Express. “It is a delay, not denial.” However, the conference Mehbooba was supposed to attend, the Twelfth Conference on Sustainable Development, begins tomorrow. Prof Amitabh Mattoo, the only other person from India invited to the conference, is already in Pakistan. Both Mehbooba’s and Omar’s earlier visits to Pakistan have been to attend conferences, but they subsequently held discussions with the Pakistan government on various models of the settlement of the Kashmir dispute. In 2006, during their visit to attend the Pugwash Conference in Islamabad, both Mehbooba and Omar were hosted by Musharraf. Omar discussed the National Conference’s autonomy proposal for Kashmir with Musharraf, and found him responsive on several points. In March 2008, Mehbooba addressed a joint press conference with Asif Ali Zardari in Pakistan. She also met the former President and Prime Minister of Pakistan-Occupied Kashmir, Sardar Abdul Qayoom, in Rawalpindi to discuss “political and economic issues” facing the two parts of Kashmir. Even though Kashmiri separatists and militant outfits slammed the closeness between the Pakistan government and the state’s political mainstream, arguing it negated their sacrifices, Islamabad came to exercise a degree of influence over both the National Conference and PDP. And the Valley’s mainstream consciously averted criticism of Pakistan’s stand on Kashmir and, in fact, aggressively called for Islamabad’s involvement in any eventual settlement. However, Islamabad’s position seems to have changed since then. The denial of a visa to Mehbooba follows the indefinite delay in the planned visit of the moderate faction of the Hurriyat Conference to Pakistan. Asked what she thought could be the reason for denying her a visa - especially since she has travelled to Pakistan twice in the past - Mehbooba said it could be because of the ongoing trouble in Pakistan. “The situation in Pakistan is not feasible. That may be the major reason. But it (denial of the visa) is no big deal,” she said. Pakistan’s move is seen to contradict its policy in recent years, which saw Islamabad opening channels of communication with leading lights of Kashmir’s political mainstream, such as Chief Minister Omar Abdullah and Mehbooba. When President Pervez Musharraf was in power, Pakistan received a gaggle of mainstream politicians from Jammu and Kashmir, including those from the Congress and BJP.