Indian Kashmir Separatists Meet Pakistani Premier
5 June 2005
Islamabad: Separatist leaders from Indian Kashmir met Pakistani Prime Minister Shaukat Aziz on Sunday and said afterwards they were assured Islamabad would do its best to bring them into the peace process with India. Mirwaiz Umar Farooq, chairman of the moderate faction in Kashmir's All Parties Hurriyat Conference, said Aziz supported the Kashmiri people's 'just struggle for the right of self- determination.' 'We are assured that the government of Pakistan is doing its utmost, its best, to see to it as to how the leadership of the people of Jammu and Kashmir would be a part of this ongoing process,' Farooq, one of nine separatist leaders visiting Pakistan, said after meeting Aziz. The delegation is expected to hold talks with President Pervez Musharraf on Tuesday. Musharraf said their visit had 'very great political significance.' India and Pakistan began a peace process in early 2004, but the most tangible sign of progress so far has been the start of a bus service across the ceasefire line to help reunite Kashmiri families separated for more than half a century. The delegation's visit was the first time the Indian government had allowed Kashmiri separatists to cross the border and hold talks with politicians in Pakistani Kashmir and with the Pakistan government. Two of three wars fought by the South Asian neighbors since they gained independence from Britain in 1947 were caused by the dispute over the divided Himalayan region. After becoming nuclear powers, they almost went to war again in 2002. The visiting Kashmiri leaders are regarded as moderates, who want some form of independence. Hardliners, who have fought for all of Kashmir to belong to Pakistan, spurned an invitation to cross the border in protest against what they see as Musharraf's attempt to reach an accommodation with India on the issue. Pakistani Information Minister Sheikh Rashid Ahmed told reporters he had accepted an invitation from Hurriyat leaders to go to Indian Kashmir by bus and would be applying for a permit to travel. 'I want to go there as a Kashmiri and not as a government minister,' Ahmed said, adding that he wanted to visit the graves of his grandparents and other relatives.