NEW DELHI, June 24: India on Friday rejected a widely-watched request by Information Minister Sheikh Rashid to take the next Muzaffarabad-Srinagar bus across the Line of Control, saying the decision was prompted by some unspecified “aspects” of the proposed journey.

In Srinagar, JKLF leader Yasin Malik, whose comments in praise of Sheikh Rashid during his recent visit to Pakistan triggered the controversy, described New Delhi’s decision to bar his proposed tour as unfortunate. Mr Malik also denied that he had ever described Sheikh Rashid as running training camps for Kashmiri resistance groups. In remarks published on Friday Sheikh Rashid told The Asian Age newspaper that he did not want any controversy surrounding his travel plans to Srinagar to mar the peace process between India and Pakistan.

An Indian foreign ministry spokesman gave no clear indication about the precise grounds for denying Sheikh Rashid permission to travel to Srinagar. The visit has been opposed by the main opposition Bharatiya Janata Party and other hard-line Hindutva groups

“The Information Minister of Pakistan Sheikh Rashid Ahmed had applied to travel on the bus from Muzaffarabad to Srinagar. The Government of India has processed the application and has declined to accord permission taking into account all relevant aspects involved,” the Indian spokesman said. In an interview from Islamabad on Thursday, Sheikh Rashid told The Age that he had just met Pakistan President Pervez Musharraf and was positive that a final decision about his travel “will be taken at the highest government-to-government level”.

“Indications here are that the government is keen to ensure that the visit is cancelled without adversely affecting the peace process,” the newspaper said. When the foreign ministry spokesman was asked about the issue on Thursday, he had said: “We have received the application which will be processed in due course.”

“This was a clear indication that the government has decided not to reject the application summarily, but will discuss the matter through the back channels with Pakistan to find an acceptable way out,” The Age said.

“I do not want the peace process to be affected (adversely) by this one issue,” Sheikh Rashid told the Indian newspaper after meeting President Musharraf. India’s junior home minister Sri Prakash Jaiswal had indicated that the government’s decision might not go Sheikh Rashid’s way. He said when Indian VIPs wanted to travel on the bus to Muzaffarabad Pakistan had said that the bus was meant for ordinary passengers.

“So we too may have the same stand. Sheikh Rashid is a minister, let him choose some other route,” The Age quoted him as saying.



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