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Pak invites Geelani, Hurriyat leaders

K J M Varma in Islamabad | May 23, 2005 20:39 IST

Pakistan on Monday extended invitation to all Hurriyat leaders, including hardline separatist leader Syed Ali Geelani to visit the country and Pakistan-occupied Kashmir on June 2 by the Srinagar-Muzaffarabad bus.

"We have extended an invitation to Hurriyat leaders to visit Pakistan by the bus on June 2. The people of Pakistan and the government and people of Azad Jammu and Kashmir have been anxiously awaiting the arrival of the Hurriyat leaders," Pakistan Foreign Office spokesman Jalil Abbas Jilani said at a media briefing in Islamabad.

"We hope that they will be able to make it this time. A very warm welcome awaits them," he continued.

To a question, he said the invitation to Hurriyat leaders included Geelani and discounted reports that Pakistan may not extend an invitation to him due to his hardline stance on the peace process.

Geelani is well-regarded in Pakistan and he has been extended the invitation along with others, he said.

Asked whether India was consulted about the invitation being extended to Hurriyat leaders, Jilani said, "There were indications from the Indian side that they would not create any hurdles. I hope all of them (Hurriyat leaders) would be allowed to travel," he added.

Jilani said Pakistan's invitation to Hurriyat was long pending and now that the bus service has started, it should materialise without any problems.

Pakistan sees 'no problem' in their travel to Muzaffarabad, the capital of PoK as the aim of the Kashmir bus service is to facilitate the travel of Kashmiris, he said.

Jilani declined to give a direct answer to questions regarding whether a similar invitation has been extended to People's Democratic Party chief Mehbooba Mufti and Omar Abdullah, leader of the National Conference.

"We consider Hurriyat leaders as the legitimate representatives of Indian-held Kashmir," he said in response to a question.

Asked how the Hurriyat leaders would be permitted to enter Pakistan, given that the agreement on the bus service had stipulated that special permits would be issued only to visit PoK, Jilani said those Kashmiris who have been travelling by bus to Muzaffarabad were also being permitted to visit parts of Pakistan like Rawalpindi and Islamabad to see relatives.

Special permission was being issued for those travelling by the bus to PoK by local officials, and a similar permission would be issued to Hurriyat leaders.

There is no bar on bus passengers to take special permission to visit parts of Pakistan, Jilani said. 

"The Hurriyat leaders are welcome to visit any part of Pakistan they like," he said.

Jilani, however, parried questions regarding the invitation being a part of efforts to involve the Kashmiri leaders in a trilateral dialogue.

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