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Who fired on Qureshi, Hurriyat asked Pakistani Foreign Secretary

Siddharth Varadarajan

New Delhi: The near-fatal shooting of Fazal Haq Qureshi figured prominently in the meeting here between the Hurriyat and the visiting Pakistani Foreign Secretary Salman Bashir last week with the conglomerate blaming Pakistan-based terrorists for the attack on the moderate Kashmiri separatist leader.

Though no group claimed responsibility for the December 2009 shooting outside a mosque in Srinagar, the incident was seen in the valley as a warning to the Hurriyat not to engage in dialogue with the Centre or mainstream Kashmiri parties like the National Conference and People’s Democratic Party.

Mr. Bashir denied the involvement of the Pakistan government or its agencies in the assassination attempt but promised to convey Kashmiri perceptions about the incident back home, The Hindu has learned. The Hurriyat leaders also expressed their unhappiness with what they said were efforts by Islamabad to undermine them by promoting factionalism within the separatist movement.

This factionalism was very much on display at the Pakistan High Commission on February 24 when Mr. Bashir was forced to have three separate back-to-back meetings with the separatists — first with Syed Ali Shah Geelani; then the Hurriyat delegation led by Mirwaiz Omer Farooq, including Bilal Lone and Professor Abdul Ghani Bhat; and finally with Jammu Kashmir Liberation Front leader Yasin Malik.

The meetings provided a glimpse of the U-turn Islamabad has made in its Kashmir policy, with Mr. Bashir assuring Mr. Geelani that the ‘out-of-the-box’ ideas on a future settlement pursued by General Pervez Musharraf through back-channel talks with India had all been jettisoned in favour of Pakistan’s traditional stand.

Mr. Bashir invited the separatist leaders to travel to Islamabad for consultations with the Foreign Office in Islamabad in the next few weeks. Pakistan is understood to be keen to hold this interaction in the context of the ‘strategic review’ of foreign policy being conducted by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in March.

Pakistan’s insistence on inviting ‘civil society’ separatists like the Jammu Kashmir Bar Association and Asiya Andrabi of Dukhtaran-e-Millat and marginal separatist politicians like Shabbir Shah to its Foreign Office consultation has also become a source of friction with the Hurriyat. Though the Mirwaiz is believed to have agreed to visit Islamabad, he is under pressure from others within the group not to attend.

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