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Separatists, political leaders to discuss Kashmir in Pakistan

Written by: Staff

New Delhi, Mar 5 (UNI) After refusing to attend Prime Minister Manmohan Singh's round-table here, several separatists will share the platform with the mainstream political leaders at a three-day international conference on Kashmir in Pakistan, beginning Friday.

Several separatist leaders, including moderate Hurriyat Conference chairman Mirwaiz Umar Farooq, are scheduled to attend the meet on Kashmir along with National Conference (NC) President Omar Abdullah and a Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) representative.

Former Hurriyat Chairman Prof Abdul Ghani Bhat is already in Pakistan and would attend the meet.

The conference has been organised by Pugwash, a European think-tank engaged in finding solution to contentious issues in South Asia, at Islamabad from March 10 to 12.

Almost all top separatist leaders had refused to attend the Prime Ministers round-table on Kashmir here on February 25, citing ''lack of preparation by the Centre'' as the reason.

Prior to the round-table, the secessionist, including the Mirwaiz-led Hurriyat, Jammu and Kashmir Liberation Front (JKLF) Chief Yasin Malik and Peoples Conference head Sajjad Lone, had held one-on-one meetings with the Prime Minister.

PDP president Mehbooba Mufti told UNI that senior leader and prominent Shia cleric Moulvi Iftikhar Hussain Ansari will present the party's stand on Kashmir at the conference.

''We have decided to send Mr Ansari to Islamabad for the conference,'' she added.

In the first ever visit to Pakistan by Jammu and Kashmir's mainstream political leader in the past more than 30 years, Mr Abdullah will meet President Pervez Musharraf and discuss the vexed issue.

This will be the maiden meeting between Mr Abdullah and General Musharraf.

''The meeting will be held during my stay in Pakistan. We will discuss the solutions to the vexed issue,'' Mr Abdullah said.

Pakistan has so far not recognised elected leaders from Jammu and Kashmir as the representatives of the people.

About the agenda of the dialogue, the former Minister of State for External Affairs said autonomy to the state, as was passed by the Jammu and Kashmir Assembly, will be discussed.

''All three regions of the state will have to be involved in the resolution of the Kashmir issue. The National Conference has maintained that autonomy is the only way out,'' he added.

Restoration of peace in the state and end to bloodshed must be achieved in the larger interest of the people, Mr Abdullah said.

Regarding the Centre's stand on the high-profile visit, the NC Chief said there was no contradiction if the leadership in Pakistan engaged the mainstream leadership from Jammu and Kashmir in the dialogue process.

In May 1964, Mr Abdullah's grandfather Sheikh Mohammad Abdullah visited Pakistan and Pakistan-occupied Kashmir (PoK) and ten years later in 1974, his father Dr Farooq Abdullah also visited the country on an invitation from JKLF.

Pugwash had also invited former Foreign Secretary S K Lamba, and several officials involved in the back-channel diplomacy, besides leaders from both sides of Kashmir.

The conference would look at recent proposals such as self-rule, steps needed to accelerate communication between the two sides as well as exploring prospects of peace.


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