A leading Kashmiri separatist yesterday welcomed comments by India's home minister that New Delhi would allow separatists to visit Pakistan, saying it would "push the peace process forward."
"I welcome the statement," Mirwaiz Umar Farooq told reporters in Srinagar, the summer capital of Indian-administered Kashmir. Home Minister Shivraj Patil said at the start of a three-day tour of the troubled region on Saturday that there were no restrictions on anyone travelling to Pakistan.
"If they [separatists] inquire ... through proper methods, we will look into it. There should not be any problem," he said in a departure from previous positions where pleas by separatists for permission to visit Pakistan have been ignored.
"If New Delhi allows us to visit Pakistan ahead of the third round of talks, it will push the peace process forward," said Farooq.
His moderate faction of the region's main separatist alliance, the All Parties Hurriyat Conference, held two rounds of talks with former Indian deputy prime minister Lal Krishna Advani earlier this year. Farooq, however, has ruled out talks with India's left-backed Congress government which was elected in May, until separatists are allowed to visit Pakistan.
"We have held two rounds of talks with New Delhi. Now there is a need to talk to the Pakistanis as they are also a party to the dispute," said Farooq, who is also a Muslim cleric.
Farooq and other moderates want to discuss the "road map" they have prepared for solving the Kashmir tangle with Pakistani leaders and Kashmiri militant leaders based in Pakistan-administered Kashmir.
Only Farooq has a passport; other separatists have either been denied travel documents or have had them impounded by the Indian authorities.
They are now likely to apply for fresh documents, a separatist source said. Patil was expected yesterday to visit the Line of Control -- the de facto border that divides Kashmir between India and Pakistan.
The Indian army has almost completed fencing a 460km stretch of the Line of Control to prevent the infiltration of Islamic militants from across the Pakistani side of the divide.