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Since 1st March, 1999
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Pak hawk bags Atal nod on Saarc meet

New Delhi, July 20: Maulana Fazl-ur Rehman, chief of the pro-Taliban Jamiat-e-Ulema Islam, today said Atal Bihari Vajpayee had told him he would visit Pakistan during January’s Saarc summit.

Rehman described his 90-minute meeting with the Prime Minister tonight as “positive” and said Vajpayee had welcomed the Jamiat delegation’s visit.

The Prime Minister reportedly told Rehman that the new initiative to restore normality between the South Asian neighbours should proceed step by step.

The hardline Jamiat leader disclosed that Vajpayee had said: “Secretary level par homework karna chahiye, jisse ki summit-level talks fail na hohn (The neighbours should prepare the ground at the secretary level so that summit-level talks don’t fail).”

Asked if he had discussed the possibility of adhering to the Simla Agreement or converting the Line of Control into the international border, Rehman said no options had been discussed and that the Kashmir dispute could only be solved through dialogue. “Both the countries have a stated position on all disputes,” the Jamiat chief said. “I am no one to comment on anything. Let us sit together and work out a solution.”

The Jamiat chief, who is also secretary-general of the Muttahida Majlis-e-Amal that has been accused of trying to “Talibanise” Pakistan’s North-West Frontier Province, said he did not want to create a controversy by touching upon contentious issues. “I don’t want to say something which will get us into an argument,” he added.

On Thursday, Rehman had opposed third-party mediation in Kashmir and said the Simla pact should be the guiding principle in resolving the tangle.

“It is a big issue between India and Pakistan, which needs to be solved urgently. But it should be done bilaterally and in the spirit of the Simla agreement,” he had said.

The Prime Minister’s Office termed today’s meeting a “courtesy call”. It is learnt that Vajpayee reiterated India’s commitment to peaceful negotiations.

The Prime Minister is said to have stressed the need to have more people-to-people contacts and increase bilateral trade. Principal secretary Brajesh Mishra was present at the meeting with the four-member Pakistani delegation, which included Jamiat deputy leader Hafeez Hussain Ahmed and parliamentarians Qazi Hamidullah and Gul Naseeb Khan.

Maulana Asad Madani, general secretary of the Jamiat-e-Ulema Hind, at whose invitation the Pakistani team is visiting India, was also present.

Rehman said his delegation was overwhelmed by their reception in India. “We will convey our feelings to the Pakistani people and parliament,” he added.

Asked if he would change his opinion when he returns home, the Jamiat chief said people may have different opinions, but they should have a common goal.

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