India: Kashmir Leaders' Pakistan Trip Restricted
26 May 2005
New Delhi: India said on Thursday Kashmiri separatist politicians due to visit Pakistan next week could not travel beyond Pakistani Kashmir, but Islamabad brushed the objection aside.The Indian foreign ministry comments came a day after the All Parties Hurriyat Conference, the main political separatist alliance of disputed Kashmir, accepted an invitation from Islamabad to take a bus across the Kashmir frontier on June 2 to hold talks to help resolve the longstanding territorial row. 'As per the understanding between the two countries, any person traveling on the bus service can travel within the erstwhile state of Jammu and Kashmir,' Indian foreign ministry spokesman Navtej Sarna told reporters. 'Any violation would affect such understanding,' he said in reply to a question on whether Kashmiri leaders would be allowed to travel beyond Pakistani Kashmir. The erstwhile state of Jammu and Kashmir refers to the contentious Himalayan region before an India-Pakistan war over the state in 1947- 48 divided it into areas controlled by the two countries. Pakistan's foreign ministry spokesman Jalil Abbas Jilani said Hurriyat leaders were not ordinary bus passengers from Indian Kashmir. 'Hurriyat leaders have a special status. They would also be coming for consultations to take the peace process forward,' Jilani said. Both countries claim the state in full and fought another war over it in 1965 and were near the brink of a third in 2002. Leaders of the moderate faction of Hurriyat were unruffled by the Indian foreign ministry comments. 'This is between the two countries. We have been invited to visit Azad (Pakistani) Kashmir and Pakistan. Let Pakistan decide about that,' Hurriyat chairman Mirwaiz Umar Farooq told Reuters. India has in the past been reluctant to allow Hurriyat leaders to visit Pakistan as the panel had made that a precondition to resume stalled talks with New Delhi. However, the launch of a historic cross-Kashmir bus link last month followed by talks in New Delhi between Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf and Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh provided new momentum to a peace process between the two countries and paved the way for the Hurriyat trip. Another influential Kashmiri separatist group, the Jammu Kashmir Liberation Front (JKLF), said on Thursday it would also visit Pakistan on June 2 to seek the participation of Kashmiris in the India-Pakistan peace process. Analysts had said the proposed visit of Kashmiri leaders to Pakistan signaled a new faith between New Delhi and Islamabad. More than 45,000 people have been killed in Indian Kashmir since a Islamic revolt against Indian rule, which New Delhi says is backed by Islamabad, erupted in 1989.