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Delhi to Hurriyat: Bon voyage but mind your label

New Delhi/Islamabad, May 24: India has no problem if Hurriyat leaders board the peace bus from Srinagar to Muzaffarabad “as individuals”.

Delhi’s stand came on a day a Pakistani newspaper published an interview with Pervez Musharraf where the President said he felt that the All-Party Hurriyat Conference, whose leaders Islamabad yesterday invited for a visit next month, was the “true representative” of Kashmiris.

“We feel that there has to be a trilateral arrangement where Kashmiris become part of the dialogue process,” Musharraf told the paper.

Musharraf also talked of a “breakthrough” as Prime Minister Manmohan Singh “has allowed” the Hurriyat leaders “to travel to Pakistan”.

India does not consider the separatist alliance, which stayed away from the Kashmir polls, a true representative of Kashmiris.

This is precisely why Delhi has made clear that it has no objection if the Hurriyat leaders travel on the Srinagar-Muzaffarabad bus “as individuals”.

“The Pakistan President saw for himself the differences that persist within the Hurriyat,” a senior official in the foreign ministry said, referring to the separate meetings he held with Hurriyat leaders during his visit to Delhi last month.

“But if he is willing to treat them as the sole representatives of the Kashmiris, then best of luck to him. We don’t necessarily have to agree with him.”

The moderate faction of the Hurriyat said its executive council would meet tomorrow to discuss the invitation.

Shabir Ahmad Shah, whose Jammu Kashmir Democratic Freedom Party was suspended from the Hurriyat nine years ago, said he had accepted the invitation.

Musharraf, who till recently had refused to set any deadline for a solution on Kashmir, today said he wanted the dispute to be sorted out within the next 12 months.

“If we move forward, which we can, if we have the courage, I am very sure this (Kashmir) whole issue can be put behind in 12 months,” Musharraf said in the interview.

“My only hope is Prime Minister Manmohan Singh stays and is allowed to move forward,” the President said.

“I am very glad to say that my interaction with BJP leaders, (L.K.) Advani and (Atal Bihari) Vajpayee, has been very good,” he said.

“The only thing that I said was please don’t oppose it because you are in the Opposition,” he added and pointed out that the Left parties, which support the ruling coalition, were also on board the peace process.

Musharraf said if the two countries fail to reach an agreement within their (Singh and his) tenure, there will be no guarantee that the next leaders would be “equally accommodating” with the same “understanding and perspective”.

“Manmohan Singh and I should seize the moment, but if we fail, the situation could revert to deadlock again,” he said.

Musharraf also suggested an “international guarantee” to any possible deal.

“I haven’t thought of this point, but may be the peace process should be guaranteed by the international community,” he told the Daily Times.

The general said it was a “new thing” he was saying but added that it would not be inappropriate if the negotiations between the two countries could be backed up by a third country or countries.

“I think if we reach an agreement there should be something other than just bilateral guarantees,” he added.

However, he did not explain what had prompted him to seek the involvement of the international community almost 15 months after the peace process commenced.

On the face of it, South Block, the seat of India’s foreign ministry, sees the new proposal as one more attempt on Pakistan’s part to involve a “third party” on a bilateral issue. India has, in the past, rejected any move to involve an outsider on Kashmir.

It is likely to be India’s position once again, if and when the proposal is formally put forward by the Pakistani leader.

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