Agence France Press

Srinagar, June 1:

Moderate Muslim separatists in Kashmir are to travel to Pakistan tomorrow for talks about the disputed region’s future, defying fierce opposition from hardliners and rebels.

The 11 separatists will travel aboard a bus service launched two months ago that crosses the Line of Control — the de facto border dividing Kashmir between nuclear-armed rivals India and Pakistan. “Going to Pakistan will be a big step toward resolving the Kashmir issue,” said Mirwaiz Umar Farooq, the region’s top Muslim cleric and head of the moderate wing of the All Parties Hurriyat Conference separatist alliance.

The moderates will meet Pakistani political leaders and heads of rebel groups based in Pakistan-held Kashmir. “The meeting with militants will be at the top of our agenda. We also want to know the stand of the Pakistani people and politicians in getting the Kashmir issue settled,” Farooq said.

Separatists sources say the moderates will carry a message to militants that the “role of the gun is over” and urge a ceasefire in Indian Kashmir. Moderate separatists led by Farooq accepted the invitation, as did Yasin Malik, head of the pro-independence JKLF, an official said.