ISLAMABAD, June 24: Opposition parties on Friday criticized the Indian refusal to allow Information Minister Sheikh Rashid Ahmed to visit Srinagar while the foreign office said the peace process would continue unaffected.

When contacted, Foreign Office spokesman Jalil Abbas Jilani said: “It (the Indian refusal of permission) will not derail the peace process.”

Sources said the foreign office had decided to downplay the Indian rebuke to ensure the continuation of the peace process.

Mr Ahmed, who had planned to undertake the visit as a common Kashmiri and not as a minister, told Dawn that contacts were made at the highest level to seek permission for his visit to Srinagar on June 30. He said that despite the Indian decision he would continue to work for peace.

“I have decided not to make it an issue,” he said.

In reply to a question, Mr Ahmed said he had given addresses of his relatives in occupied Kashmir to the Indian government and completed all the formalities for the visit and added that the Indian authorities had contacted his relatives.

Meanwhile, the People’s Party Parliamentarians, Pakistan Muslim League (N), Muttahida Majlis-i-Amal and Muttahida Qaumi Movement criticized the Indian decision.

PPP spokesperson Senator Farhatullah Babar said: “Sheikh Rashid is a non-issue. However, the decision by the Indian government is a retrogressive step in the ongoing context of the peace process. It should have been avoided.”

PML-N spokesperson Siddiqul Farooq said the peace process was tilted in favour of India. He described Mr Ahmed’s plan to visit Srinagar as a publicity stunt.

“Still, I think it would have been advisable for India to have allowed Mr Ahmed to visit Srinagar. It would not have made much difference,” said Mr Farooq.

The PML-N spokesman said that if a ‘real representative’ government was in place in the country, India could not have taken such a step.

MMA Senator Professor Khurshid Ahmed said the Indian refusal was a non-issue for the six-party alliance. He said as a cabinet minister Mr Ahmed should not have applied for the permission as it was an ill-advised step.

Yet, he said, the refusal of permission by the Indian government was ‘rude and discourteous.’

MQM MNA Kunwar Khalid Younus said the confidence-building measures meant that bitterness of the past had to be forgotten. He said if the old wounds were scratched, a Pandora’s Box would be opened. India and Pakistan, he stressed, must move forward and must not look back at the past.

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