The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Pak calls Hurriyat for talks

New Delhi, June 24: In a provocative move days before a crucial bilateral engagement, Pakistani high commissioner Aziz Ahmed Khan today met Hurriyat Conference leader Mirwaiz Umer Farooq and invited him and other members of his group to a discussion with foreign secretary Riaz Khokar in Delhi this weekend.

The meeting came hours before Prime Minister Manmohan Singh emphasised, in his maiden address to the nation, his government’s commitment to talks with the Hurriyat to find a solution to the Kashmir problem.

“The government is willing to talk with all disaffected groups provided they shun the path of violence,” Singh said this evening.

Khokar is arriving here from Islamabad this weekend to hold two-day talks with Shashank, his Indian counterpart. The talks that start on Sunday will cover several bilateral issues, including Kashmir. The invitation to the Hurriyat leaders is a clear attempt by Pakistan to make them a part of the talks with India on the fate of the troubled state.

It was not immediately clear whether the Mirwaiz, who is here to mourn the 29-year-old son of Jammu and Kashmir Democratic Front chairman Bushan Bazaz, had accepted the invitation. Indications are that he will talk to the other leaders of his group before announcing his decision.

Though Delhi is aware of the meeting and the invitation, it hasn’t turned a hair. Officials in South Block made it clear that though it is a provocative gesture, India, as a vibrant and transparent democracy, does not want to react and spoil the atmosphere before the foreign secretary-level talks.

The high commissioner and his deputy, Munawar Bhatti, met Mirwaiz in an apparent bid to break the ice with the moderate faction of the Hurriyat. The leader of the hardline faction, Syed Ali Shah Geelani, had claimed recently that he was the only one to be invited to meet the Pakistani foreign secretary.

This is not the first time that Pakistan has tried to involve the Hurriyat during an important dialogue with India. Three years ago, when President Pervez Musharraf came for the Agra Summit, the high commission in Delhi had organised a meeting over tea between him and the Hurriyat leaders.

The issue of allowing Pakistani leaders to meet Hurriyat and other militant leaders of Kashmir has been debated in the past in the Indian establishment. But over the years, Delhi, particularly South Block, has taken the stand that it is better for the government to allow such meetings than stop them, which they feel would generate bad publicity.

Senior Indian officials have argued that Hurriyat leaders are Indian nationals and, therefore, the Pakistani leaders or senior officials are free to meet them.

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