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Pakistan calls Hurriyat factions for talks

B. Muralidhar Reddy

ISLAMABAD: Carrying forward the dialogue on Kashmir, Islamabad on Monday formally invited leaders of both the Hurriyat factions, including Syed Ali Shah Geelani, to Pakistan-occupied Kashmir (PoK) and Pakistan for talks.

They have been asked to take the June 2 Srinagar-Muzaffarabad bus to visit various parts of PoK and subsequently Pakistan on `special permission'.

Issue discussed with India

According to diplomatic sources here, the issue of India permitting the Hurriyat leaders' visit figured during the April visit of Pakistan President Pervez Musharraf and an understanding was arrived at. The stated Indian position is that it can consider any Hurriyat request for a visit to PoK as well as Pakistan.

However, it is immediately not clear whether the understanding envisaged an arrangement, under which the Hurriyat leaders will be allowed to cross over to Pakistan from PoK and whether the team will include Mr. Geelani.

As per the bus service agreement, passengers are entitled to travel only within the territory of the erstwhile princely State of Jammu and Kashmir. For, the passengers travel on a special permit after both sides waived the requirement of passports and visas.

Islamabad's invitation came a day after India announced that Prime Minister Manmohan Singh was willing to meet the Hurriyat leaders.

"We have extended an invitation to Hurriyat leaders to visit Pakistan on the bus on June 2,'' Foreign Office spokesman Jalil Abbas Jilani told a media briefing here on Monday.

Musharraf's counsel

During his recent visit to New Delhi, Gen. Musharraf counselled the Hurriyat leaders to consider holding separate talks with the leadership in India and Pakistan and not to insiste on immediate tripartite dialogue.

The moderate faction headed by Mirwaiz Umar Farooq welcomed his suggestion but Mr. Geelani criticised it as a dilution of Pakistan's known stance on Kashmir.

The spokesman evaded a direct reply to questions whether similar invitation would be extended to Mehbooba Mufti, daughter of Mufti Mohammad Sayeed, Chief Minister of Jammu and Kashmir and senior leader of the People's Democratic Party, and Omar Abdullah, leader of the National Conference.

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