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Allow Minister on bus: Pakistan

B. Muralidhar Reddy

Request comes despite negative signals from New Delhi

ISLAMABAD: Pakistan on Thursday requested India that Information Minister Sheikh Rashid Ahmed be allowed to travel on the Muzaffarabad-Srinagar bus on June 30. The Minister allegedly ran a shelter camp for Kashmiris in the late 1980s.

According to Government sources, Islamabad decided to go ahead with the request despite clear signals from New Delhi that the Minister was not welcome at this juncture. "We did not give an impression that we are guided by New Delhi in our decision-making," a senior official said here.

Mr. Ahmed virtually sealed any chances of clearance with his controversial statement on Wednesday that India and Pakistan would have to leave behind camps run for the Mukthi Bahini by New Delhi and the "guest care" centre he ran for Kashmiris if the peace process has to move forward. He accused a section of the media of distorting the comments made by JKLF leader Yasin Malik at a function here last week.

Speaking to a 30-member delegation of the Indian Newspaper Society at a luncheon hosted by him here on Wednesday, he said that Pakistanis "loved as well as hated with an open heart." He was at pains to emphasise that there was no hidden agenda in the warmth and hospitality of his country towards India and Indians.

Observers surprised

His reference to the Mukthi Bahini camps, purportedly run by India prior to the 1971 war, has surprised political and diplomatic observers here.

Implied in his statement is the suggestion that if India raised objections to the "hospitality camp" he ran for Kashmiris, Pakistan can talk about camps organised by India in East Pakistan which subsequently became Bangladesh.

However, that is not the official mood. Islamabad does not appear inclined to link the peace process with the Minister's request.

"Forget old issues"

Mr. Ahmed said that India and Pakistan should forget "old issues" and move forward with "open hearts" to resolve bilateral problems including Kashmir. "If we have to move forward, all the issues from Mukthi Bahini camps to Sheikh Rashid's guest care house have to be forgotten. We should forget about old issues. If we have to move forward, we should not look back. Move forward with open hearts," he said.

About his proposed visit to Kashmir, he said he was not certain about it. He had recently visited India with President Pervez Musharraf.

"Now I want to go myself but I am not sure what will happen. The ball is now in India's court, and let us see what they do and how they move," he told reporters here on Thursday.

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