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Pakistani Politician's Visit to India Seen as Building Goodwill - 2003-07-22


A senior Pakistani politician, Maulana Fazl-ur Rehman, is wrapping up a week-long visit to India, where he called for peace between the South Asian rivals.

Mr. Rehman, head of the Jamiat Ulema-e Islam party in Pakistan, says he wants to create goodwill to further the recent moves toward peace between the two countries. His party belongs to an alliance of Islamic parties that is influential in Pakistan's lower house of parliament.

Mr. Rehman and three colleagues came to New Delhi last week on a bus service recently restarted between the two countries, following a calm in their usually stormy relationship.

He has met several Hindu religious and political leaders, including Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee.

Indian Foreign Ministry spokesman Navtej Sarna says Mr. Rehman is on a private visit, prompted by the improved atmosphere between the two countries. The spokesman described the visit as focusing more on "the nature of the importance of people-to-people contact toward building a proper atmosphere for dialogue."

Throughout his visit, Mr. Rehman has repeated the same message, that the Kashmir issue needs to be solved through bilateral dialogue. He says Islamic clerics in Pakistan also want a peaceful political solution to the bitter dispute over Kashmir, the Himalayan region divided between them, but claimed in its entirety by both.

Politicians from India or Pakistan rarely visit the other country.

Independent political analyst Inder Malhotra says it is important for leaders on both sides to make more such visits to overcome popular misconceptions about each other.

"For example, the Maulana generally was thought [among Indians] to be one of those fundamentalists, whose face is depicted among the militants and terrorists in Jammu and Kashmir," said Mr. Malhotra. "But they found that no, he talks very reasonably, he is a soft-spoken man, and one of his lieutenants is a man of great humor, and altogether their visit has been a great success."

India and Pakistan have fought three wars over Kashmir, and came close to a fourth one last year. Indian charges that Pakistan aids and abets a Muslim separatist insurgency in Kashmir - a charge Islamabad strongly denies.

Leaders from both sides have recently said they want to resume talks, and return peace to the region.