NEW DELHI, April 28: India and Pakistan are discussing a possible safe passage to enable armed militants to return home from operations in Jammu and Kashmir, former prime minister of Azad Kashmir Sardar Abdul Qayyum said here on Saturday.

Mr Qayyum is leading a rare delegation of leaders from Azad Kashmir for “heart to heart” talks with Indian interlocutors.

“Safe passage to militants is under discussion as part of the peace measures,” Mr Qayyum said in a chat with Indian officials and former diplomats. They included senior intelligence officials, diplomats and a former governor of Indian administered Kashmir. Indian officials said they did not foresee a difficulty in a future agreement on the issue. India, however, is equally keen on the return of Kashmiris who had gone across the LoC to Azad Kashmir.

Mr Qayyum said he was not aware of how many militants there might be, but he declined to describe all of them as terrorists. “This is a term coined after 9/11. There may have been incidents of terrorism, which we all condemned, but it is wrong to bracket all Kashmiris fighting for their rights as terrorists.”

The veteran leader said elements of the four-point proposal on Kashmir offered by President Gen Pervez Musharraf were present also in the ideas of Sheikh Abdullah when he visited Pakistan in the 1960s to probe a “joint condominium.”

“At that time there were suspicions in Pakistan it could be an Indian ploy to interfere in Azad Kashmir. Today, we hear of worries in India that the proposal could lead to Pakistan’s direct involvement in the affairs of Jammu and Kashmir. In my view the fears are misplaced.”

Mr Qayyum said he did not believe there were any training camps for Kashmiri militants in Azad Kashmir any more. “We must stop the blame game. If you do not believe me, please come to visit me and I’ll take you where you want to go in search of these mythical camps.”

The Kashmir leader said it was a good sign for the peace process that he was finally allowed to visit New Delhi. At a separate meeting with the press, he supported the peace process but described the quest for independence for Kashmiris as a pipedream. “Who is going to let you have another Muslim country in the region?”

APP adds: Mr Qayyum also called on Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh here on Saturday and discussed with him different aspects of the Kashmir issue.

The two also discussed Pakistan-India relations with special reference to the ongoing peace process.

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