Pak feelers to Hurriyat for talks next month

FP

Pakistan has informed Kashmiri separatist groups that it intends to invite them to Islamabad for talks between December 16 and 21, in what would be the first formal conversation between the two sides in nearly four years. An official invitation is expected in the coming weeks.

Sources said the feelers have been sent well in advance possibly because Islamabad had to cancel all invitations in 2010 after Syed Ali Shah Geelani took offence at the invitation not recognising him as the main leader of the All Parties Hurriyat Conference (APHC).

New Delhi is unlikely to create hurdles as the government feels curbing interaction would breed suspicion. Moreover, India feels the ruling Pakistan Peoples Party is organising the meeting ahead of general elections there to counter allegations of soft-pedalling the Kashmir issue.

Kashmiri separatist leaders had last visited Pakistan in 2008 on the cross-LoC bus.

Mirwaiz Umar Farooq, who has also been sounded out for next month's visit, is now recognised by Pakistan as the main Hurriyat leader. In fact, during the UN General Assembly session in September, Farooq had met Pakistani foreign minister Hina Rabbani Khar and is said to have conveyed the despondency among Kashmiri separatists over Pakistan making progress on trade and related subjects with India instead of keeping up pressure on the Kashmir dispute.

Farooq had to return disappointed as Khar made it clear to him that the dispute could not be resolved quickly and until then, other facets of the peace process had to move on.

Geelani, who is key to Pakistan efforts, too has been critical of Islamabad in his message to the Difa-e-Pakistan council and questioned its government's commitment to the Kashmir issue.

Others expected to be invited include Yasin Malik of the Jammu Kashmir Liberation Front and other executive committee members of the APHC.

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