Karachi, June 25 (AFP): Pakistan’s main fundamentalist Jamaat-e-Islami party — apparently shedding its hardline policy towards India — today said it supported peace initiatives between the rival nuclear neighbours.
The party’s top leadership hosted a grand reception to welcome an Indian parliamentary delegation here late on Tuesday in a move which “shocked” Islamic militants.
“We welcome them in Pakistan. We want friendship with India and we are in favour of meaningful dialogue to resolve all issues including Kashmir,” Jamaat deputy chief Ghafoor Ahmed said.
He agreed that the reception overnight was the first by his party for any visiting Indian team involving “people-to-people contact”.
The Jamaat al-Dawa, the mother party of banned militant outfit Lashkar-e-Toiba, was unhappy with the country’s most organised Islamic party.
“Jamaat’s decision was shocking for us and for millions of Kashmiris who are busy in jihad against the Indian army,” party spokesperson Yahya Mujahid said.
Talks can only be successful if India withdraws its troops from Kashmir, Mujahid added.
A six-member delegation of Indian parliamentarians led by Independent MP Kuldip Nayyar arrived in Pakistan last week to promote the peace process launched by the two countries in April after a 17-month standoff in bilateral ties.
The visit was in response to a similar unofficial visit by Pakistani MPs last month.
The Jamaat’s reception was seen by many here as a U-turn in its opposition to India. The Jamaat activists had launched a violent demonstration in 1999 when Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee visited Lahore by bus.
Ahmed, however, dispelled the impression that the party had changed its policy towards India.
“We had been in favour of dialogue in 1999 also. At that time, we only asked Mr Vajpayee to recognise Kashmir as the core issue between the two countries,” he said.
The Indian delegation was impressed by the gesture.
“If parties like the Jamaat-e-Islami can hold a reception for us, it clearly indicates that the peace initiative is moving in the right direction,” MP Shahid Siddiqui said.
Nayyar assured the Jamaat members that India wanted to see Pakistan develop as an “economically stronger nation”.