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Hurriyat leaders allowed to go to Kathmandu

By Our Special Correspondent

NEW DELHI, DEC. 11. Eight Kashmir leaders, belonging to the separatist camp, left here today to attend the Pugwash Peace conference in Kathmandu, Nepal. Among those who left were Shabir Shah, Abdul Gani Bhatt, Mirwaiz Umar Farooq, Sajjad Lone and Bilal Lone. The theme of the three-day conference is "Jammu and Kashmir and the India-Pakistan Dialogue: the Prospectus Ahead."

The separatist leaders' departure hinged on an informal signal from the Union Government to Nepal. Not all of the separatist leaders possess passports (though Indians do not need passports to enter Nepal); those who did not possess a passport were unwilling to produce an alternative "Indian" identity card. The separatist leaders were insisting on travelling only on "identity cards" provided to them by the local administration in Jammu and Kashmir.

Indian officials, especially those belonging to the "agencies", were not too keen on letting the separatist leaders dictate the terms of travel. Neither the Home Ministry nor the External Affairs Ministry was too excited about these leaders' participation However, according to a senior official, the matter was settled after the Prime Minister, Manmohan Singh, ruled that these leaders be allowed to travel, without making them feel compromised.

The Union Home Minister, Shivraj Patil is also said to be in favour of allowing the separatist leaders to go to Kathmandu. In fact, Mr. Shabir Shah and Syed Ali Shah Geelani, leader of an All Parties Hurriyat Conference faction, both under house arrest, were released two days ago to enable them to come to Delhi to take the flight to Kathmandu. Mr. Geelani, however, could not leave because of a medical emergency.

Intra-Kashmir dialogue

According to the senior official, this is the first time that the Centre is facilitating an intra-Kashmir dialogue, enabling leaders from Jammu and Kashmir to meet face to face their counterparts in Pakistan-occupied Kashmir (PoK). So far, the "track II" endeavours have tried to promote an India-Pakistan dialogue. A number of leaders from the Pakistan-Occupied Kashmir are expected to participate in the Kathmandu meet, besides a number of Indian and Pakistani "experts".

Aziz-Dixit dialogue put off

The Tariq Aziz-J.N.Dixit "track II" dialogue, meanwhile, has been put on hold after some elements in the Pakistan establishment were suspected of having violated the confidentiality of the two principals. The Indian side feels that they are unhappy with the progress in the Aziz-Dixit interaction, especially after the success of the Musharraf-Manmohan Singh meeting at Roosevelt Hotel in New York in September. These elements began leaking details of the Aziz-Dixit process to sections of the Pakistan and the Indian media.

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