India To Let Kashmiri Separatists Visit-Musharraf
24 May 2005
Islamabad: India will allow leaders of Kashmir's main separatist political alliance to visit Pakistan for talks on the disputed region's future, Pakistan's President Pervez Musharraf said in an interview published on Tuesday. Pakistan has issued an invitation to the All Parties Hurriyat Conference, an alliance of about two dozen political groups, to visit on June 2. India has previously been reluctant to let Hurriyat leaders, some of whom seek independence for Kashmir and others a merger with Pakistan, to travel to Pakistan. 'Now we have a breakthrough. Prime Minister Manmohan Singh has allowed them to travel to Pakistan,' Musharraf told the Daily Times. 'So once they talk to us and they also talk to the Indian government, which we will try to facilitate, we shall have a trilateral arrangement going.' The moderate faction of Hurriyat said its executive council would meet on Wednesday to discuss the invitation from Islamabad. Shabir Ahmad Shah, whose Jammu Kashmir Democratic Freedom Party was suspended from the Hurriyat nine years ago, said he had accepted the invitation and would be visiting Pakistan. Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf met Hurriyat leaders last month when he made his first visit to New Delhi since a disastrous summit in 2001 and urged unity. He held talks with Singh and afterwards described the peace process as irreversible. Kashmir is at the heart of half a century of enmity between India and Pakistan. They have fought two of their three wars since independence from Britain in 1947 over the region and went to the brink of another over the territory in 2002. Musharraf was also upbeat about chances of settling differences over the Siachen Glacier, isolated high in the mountains of northern Kashmir, and Sir Creek, an estuary on the coast between Pakistan's southern Sind province and India's western state of Gujarat. 'UNNECESSARY IRRITANTS' Indian Defense Ministry officials are to begin four days of talks in Islamabad on Thursday focused on the two disputes, described by Musharraf as 'unnecessary irritants which can be resolved.' He said it was possible to pull forces off the uninhabited Siachen Glacier, the world's highest battlefield, before demilitarizing the Indian-held Kashmir Valley. More soldiers have died from cold, the effects of altitude or mountain accidents than from enemy fire on Siachen in the 21 years since the two armies occupied the glacier. Musharraf also fleshed out his vision of the way the Kashmir dispute could be resolved in a way that would lead to self-governance for Kashmiris with some degree of oversight for both India and Pakistan. The Line of Control, a ceasefire line India regards as the de facto frontier, had to be bypassed as a sticking point, he said. 'India says the boundaries cannot be redrawn. I keep saying we cannot accept the Line of Control. And I also strongly believe the third element; that borders are becoming irrelevant,' Musharraf said. 'I can just give you a feel for the kind of approach I am inclined to take,' the Pakistani president told the newspaper. He said regions of Kashmir that needed to be demilitarized should be identified first, in order to stop human rights violations and help Pakistan persuade militants to stop fighting. Finally, he advocated self-governance for Kashmiris living in these regions as a compromise between independence and the autonomy that India was offering. 'Obviously the Kashmiris should govern themselves. But if (India) is not giving them independence they should be watched over by all three parties.' He said India, Pakistan and the Kashmiris needed to agree together the division of responsibilities.