India's 'no' To Pakistan Minister
24 June 2005
New Delhi: The Indian government has turned down a request from Pakistani Information Minister Sheikh Rashid Ahmed to visit Indian- administered Kashmir. Mr Ahmed had applied to travel on the cross- Kashmir bus service that began in April as part of a peace process in the divided region. Mr Ahmed said he was 'surprised and shocked' by the decision. Last week it was alleged Mr Ahmed had run a training camp for separatist rebels in the 1980s, which he denied. QUICK GUIDE Kashmir dispute Former Pakistani army chief, Gen Aslam Beg, had told the BBC's Urdu service that Mr Ahmed ran the camp until it was closed in 1991 on the orders from the prime minister at the time. However, Mr Ahmed, a Kashmiri, did acknowledge that he provided accommodation for militants. India had already expressed concern over the allegations. In the past, Delhi has accused Pakistan of aiding and abetting armed militants fighting Indian rule in Kashmir, but Islamabad has always denied the charge. 'Another route' On Friday, Indian foreign ministry spokesman, Navtej Sarna, said: 'The government of India has processed the application and has declined permission, taking into account all aspects.' Mr Ahmed was hoping to visit India on 30 June as a follow up to a recent landmark visit by moderate separatist leaders to Pakistan. The landmark cross- Kashmir bus service began in April He said: 'I think it will hurt the feelings of my relatives in Kashmir. My visit would have bolstered the peace process between Pakistan and India.' The chairman of the Kashmiri separatist group, the Jammu Kashmir Liberation Front, Yasin Malik, said the Indian decision was 'unfortunate'. A Pakistani foreign office spokesman told the BBC the move would not affect the ongoing peace process. On Thursday, India had hinted Mr Ahmed's request would be rejected. Junior home minister, Sriprakash Jaiswal, said: 'When our VVIPs wanted to travel, Pakistan reasoned that the bus is meant for ordinary people. 'So we too may have the same stand. Rashid is a minister, let him choose some other route,' he said. India and Pakistan have fought two wars over Kashmir since independence in 1947. In the past 15 years of insurgency by separatist militants opposed to Indian rule, more than 40,000 people have died. The two nations embarked on a peace process over the region about 18 months ago.