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Pakistan hawk on goodwill trip to India

Islamabad, July 14: A leader of an Islamic alliance accused of trying to “Talibanise” Pakistan will visit India on Wednesday for a trip he said is aimed at furthering South Asian peace efforts.

Fazal-ur Rehman, head of the pro-Taliban Jamiat-e-Ulema Islam, said he would lead a four-member team from his party on a five-day trip during which he hopes to meet religious, political and government leaders.

“We are going there with a message of goodwill on behalf of Pakistani people, on behalf of all the religious circles of Pakistan and on behalf of the political parties,” Rehman said today. “We want to assure them that we support peaceful resolution of all issues, including Kashmir.”

Rehman is a key member of the six-party Muttahida Majlis-e-Amal (MMA) Islamic alliance accused by government officials and rights groups of attempting to “Talibanise” a north-western province it gained control of in the October elections.

His party was a backer of the Taliban regime ousted in Afghanistan in late 2001 and with the MMA has pushed through hardline Islamic legislation in the North West Frontier Province that critics say is reminiscent of Taliban policies.

The MMA has strongly opposed President Pervez Musharraf, a key backer of the US in its war on terror, and has often criticised India over Kashmir and ruled out any concessions.

Rehman, who nevertheless appeared pleased to be making his fourth visit to India, spoke after a meeting on Sunday with Prime Minister Mir Zafarullah Khan Jamali, but said he would not be taking any official message with him.

“Our intention is to meet the people there, to meet the religious circles, political and government circles and hold frank discussions with them,” he said. “We want to be helpful in creating an atmosphere which leads to resolving the mutual disputes.”

Pakistan and India remain at loggerheads on Kashmir but recent months have seen an exchange of peace overtures and some concrete steps to improve ties, including the resumption of full diplomatic ties and a cross-border bus service. But the two countries have yet to agree on a date for summit-level talks.

Rehman said he and his delegation would travel by road via the Wagah border crossing near Lahore and visit Sirhind in Punjab, Deoband in Uttar Pradesh and Delhi. He will be hosted by Asad Madani, leader of Jamiat-e-Ulema Hind, an Indian Islamic party from which his group emerged after Partition.

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