Pak. invites Hurriyat leaders for tea

ISLAMABAD, JULY 6. On a day of fast changing developments that cast a shadow on the coming India-Pakistan summit meeting, the military Government on Friday confirmed its decision to invite the Hurriyat leaders for the tea-party in New Delhi before issuing a sharply-worded statement accusing the Indian forces of stepping up acts of ``repression and oppression'' in the Kashmir Valley.

In a statement that caught everyone by surprise, the Foreign Office urged the Indian Government to end its ``repression'' in the Valley. The statement came within hours of a Foreign Office spokesman saying it looked forward for a ``positive result'' to the Musharraf-Vajpayee summit.

The spokesman said Kashmir would have to be the focus of the summit talks, but added that his Government was optimistic of a ``positive result''.

There was no clue that about such a strong statement when the spokesman addressed the press at 12.30 p.m. There had been no dearth of such statements by the Government in the past but today's statement, just 10 days before the summit, has its own implications.

It may be recalled that the day Gen. Musharraf took over as the President, the Prime Minister, Mr. Atal Behari Vajpayee, called the former and the two countries agreed not to issue provocative statements that could spoil the pre-summit atmosphere. Today's statement, therefore, is a total surprise.

Indian apprehensions

Earlier, the military regime confirmed the decision to invite the leaders of the All-Party Hurriyat Conference (APHC) for the tea- party being hosted by the Pakistan High Commissioner, Mr. Ashraf Jehangir Qazi, on July 14 in honour of Gen. Musharraf.

India, clearly caught unawares by the development, believes it will cast a shadow on the summit. While the extreme opinion in the Indian camp is that it is the ``beginning of the end of the high hopes from the summit'', the moderate view is there is still plenty of time before the start of the summit.

Confirming the decision to facilitate a ``photo-op'' between the Hurriyat leaders and Gen. Musharraf at the Pakistan High Commission in New Delhi, a Pakistan Foreign Office spokesman tried to explain the rationale behind the move.

He did not exactly address a press meet to announce the decision, nor did he issue any statement. He merely made himself available for any questions from the press. He evaded a reply to a question whether India had voiced any reservations on a direct or indirect contact between Gen. Musharraf and the Hurriyat leaders during the General's visit to India.

According to reliable sources, within hours of the Foreign Ministry spokesman confirmed the invitation to the Hurriyat leaders, India again reiterated its opposition to the idea. It is believed that India has conveyed to those matter in the Pakistani establishment that facilitation of a contact between Gen. Musharraf and the Hurriyat leaders will ``vitiate the atmosphere for the summit''. ``We may not stop the Hurriyat leaders from attending the tea party. It is for Pakistan to decide its priorities. If Pakistan is serious about the summit meet, then it should give a quiet burial to the idea of facilitating a contact between Gen. Musharraf and the Hurriyat,'' a senior diplomat said.

What has upset India more than anything else is that Pakistan seems to be going back on its word. In the last few days on more than one occasion India has said both in Islamabad and New Delhi that any meeting between the Hurriyat and Gen. Musharraf would only spoil the atmosphere.

``We were given to understand by responsible persons in the Pakistani establishment that there was no plan to facilitate any contact, direct or indirect, between Gen. Musharraf and the Hurriyat during his India visit. We are taken aback at the volte- face by the military government,'' the diplomat who did wish to be identified said. He said India was aware of the Pakistan's dilemma on the ticklish issue of Hurriyat but at the same time it was in no position to yield on the subject.

Hurriyat status

Why is India so adamant on the question of Hurriyat? India is not prepared to concede the Pakistani viewpoint that the Hurriyat alone represents the ``sentiments and aspirations'' of the Kashmiris. ``We certainly think the Hurriyat is an important component of the Kashmiri opinion. But to concede the status of sole representative of Kashmiris would be a total travesty of truth and justice''.

Elaborating on the logic behind the invitation to the Hurriyat for the tea party, the Pakistan Foreign Office spokesman said within days of India's Ramzan initiative (November 19), Pakistan invited the APHC leaders to visit Islamabad for consultations. ``We have made known our position in the past as to why Pakistan attaches importance to the Hurriyat for consultations. It is well established that the APHC is the true voice of the Kashmiris and Kashmiris would have to be involved in the consultations for a process of resolution of Kashmir issue.''

Tradition to be followed

The spokesman said the venue and time for the tea party had not been finalised yet. ``As in the past prominent persons including the Hurriyat leaders would be invited. This is the tradition followed on occasions such as celebration of Pakistan Day and the same would be followed''.