The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Passport prick from Pak

New Delhi, June 5: President Pervez Musharraf’s dil may have changed but not his spots. He is as ready as ever to pull a fast one on New Delhi whenever he gets the chance.

Musharraf’s government yesterday allowed the visiting leaders from Jammu and Kashmir to travel to Islamabad from Pakistan-occupied Kashmir (PoK), but did not stamp their passports.

The general then went on to further needle India. That the Hurriyat leaders had not come on Indian passports and Pakistani visas is a sign that both countries recognise the “disputed status” of Kashmir, he declared.

The understanding between Islamabad and New Delhi is that a visitor would need a passport to travel from PoK to elsewhere in Pakistan. After initial insistence that the visitors must stay within PoK, New Delhi had issued passports to them.

The Indian government and diplomatic circles played down Musharraf’s move but the BJP described it as “serious” and asked the Centre to make its position clear.

Party spokesman Prakash Javadekar said: “President Musharraf’s statement that both countries have recognised the disputed status of Kashmir is serious and has far-reaching consequences.”

Though South Block mandarins admitted in private that Pakistan’s action violated the understanding between the two countries, there was no official reaction.

External affairs ministry sources said the government will express its views in a day or two after studying all the aspects of the issue.

“The understanding was that they (the visiting Indian leaders) would not go beyond PoK. There is an understanding that anyone travelling by Srinagar-Muzaffarabad bus (which the leaders did not take) will not be allowed to go beyond the jurisdiction of PoK,” a ministry official said.

But a senior Congress leader saw no reason for India to get worked up.

“The Prime Minister had said ‘let us do something that is out of the box’,” he said. “This is what really ‘out of the box’ means.

“We are departing from a fixed position and if we need to move forward, we have to do a lot of things.”

Former foreign secretary Salman Haider agreed: “Once India had accepted Hurriyat representatives going across, I think, if they move on to the other part of the territory, it is not something of great significance.”

CPI national secretary D. Raja welcomed the move, saying: “These are all part of the ongoing process to find a solution to the dispute. That Kashmir has a disputed status is nothing new. What did BJP do at Agra' Kashmir is an issue between India and Pakistan.”

Brajesh Mishra, who was national security adviser to Atal Bihari Vajpayee’s government, refused to comment.

The BJP has maintained that the Hurriyat leaders should have travelled to Pakistan-occupied Kashmir by the Srinagar-Muzaffarabad bus and visited Islamabad by the “passport-visa route”.

“When the external affairs ministry made the government’s stand clear, we were under the impression that the Hurriyat leaders’ visit would be within the declared parameters.

“But it seems that the Centre knowingly got entangled in this mesh,” Javadekar said.

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