Tara Shankar Sahay in New Delhi
The government is using the services of leading Islamic scholars through the Track II diplomatic channel to talk to terrorist groups in Jammu & Kashmir, concrete indications surfaced on Saturday.
"The government recently issued visas to a team of ulema led by noted Deoband scholar Maulana Asad Madani, who visited Pakistan last month to participate in the 150th anniversary celebrations of the Deoband madrassa in Peshawar," an official at the All-Parties Hurriyat Conference office in New Delhi told rediff.com
He said this indicated that along with the 'normal channels', the government is encouraging the scholars to take the Track II route to establish contact with the hardcore extremists, notably Maulana Fazlur Rahman, chief of the Jamait-e-Islami of Pakistan.
Rahman is also the patron of the Tehreek-ul-Mujahideen and has widespread influence among the Kashmiri terrorist groups based in Pakistan.
The Hurriyat official indicated that the Deoband scholars had extended an invitation to Rahman to visit Delhi to talk to the government of Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee to find a solution to the Kashmir dispute.
The Jamait chief is learnt to have applied for an Indian visa in Islamabad, but New Delhi is yet to clear it.
Rahman was a senator in the Pakistani National Assembly and chairman of the foreign relations committee when Benazir Bhutto was prime minister. He is also the rector of the Dera Ismail Khan madrassa.
The office of the special secretary (Kashmir) in the home ministry has, however, professed ignorance about any such Track II efforts involving the Deoband scholars.
But Union Parliamentary Affairs Minister Pramod Mahajan told rediff.com, "I don't know anything about the nitty-gritty, but it is common knowledge that both India and Pakistan are engaged in a possible solution of the Kashmir issue through the Track II diplomatic route."
Home Minister Lal Kishenchand Advani and External Affairs and Defence Minister Jaswant Singh are currently in Srinagar to take stock of the situation in the state before the expiry of the government's ceasefire.
Advani and Singh met the unified command of the security forces in the Kashmir valley and were told that while the number of killings of security personnel and civilians had risen to 800-plus during the ceasefire, the number of militants killed had come down to about 400.
The Cabinet Committee on Security will meet on Tuesday at the prime minister's Race Course Road residence to decide whether to extend the ceasefire.
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