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Pak shuts Azhar out of PoK
- Pervez dangles fresh confidence booster

May 14: Islamabad has banned the entry of most-wanted militant Masood Azhar into Pakistan-occupied Kashmir, in a measure aimed at winning New Delhi’s confidence.

India has been very sensitive about Azhar, who it freed during the Kandahar hijack and holds responsible for the attack on Parliament. The Jaish-e-Mohammad leader was to address a rally in PoK tomorrow.

In Muzaffarabad, the capital of PoK, senior security official Mohammed Nawaz Khan confirmed Islamabad’s move. “We have banned his entry,” he said.

Last week, President Pervez Musharraf had eased out Rashid Qureshi as his spokesman. Qureshi, a hardliner, was present at the failed Agra summit. Delhi was privately thrilled about his removal but would not show it.

Today, senior foreign ministry officials described the bar on Azhar as a “significant” step but hurriedly added that follow-up action was necessary to see if there has been any shift in Islamabad’s policy on terror.

Azhar, speaking from his Bahawalpur home in Pakistan’s Punjab province, said the move was aimed at appeasing India. “It is unjustified to stop me from going to (Pakistan-occupied) Kashmir to express solidarity with the freedom struggle in Indian-held Kashmir.”

Intercepts by the Indian intelligence reveal that Pakistan has closed down some terrorist camps in PoK and asked militants to deposit their arms with the authorities. While these moves were seen as encouraging by some sections in the establishment, others said they could have been prompted by infighting between rival Jaish factions.

The restriction on Azhar could be a measure to ensure the infighting does not get out of hand. But it could also be one of the confidence-building measures that Islamabad has been talking about to create a conducive atmosphere for resuming talks with Delhi.

Foreign minister Yashwant Sinha, who met US secretary of state Colin Powell in Moscow, “stressed the importance of ensuring that the process of re-engagement is not disrupted by terrorist attacks in India”.

“Secretary Powell mentioned that the US would continue to stress upon Pakistan the need to take action on cross-border terrorist activities,” foreign ministry spokesperson Navtej Sarna said.

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