/In surprise visit, Norway’s ex-PM meets separatist leaders in J&K

In surprise visit, Norway’s ex-PM meets separatist leaders in J&K

Former Norwegian prime minister Kjell Magne Bondevik, under whom Norway negotiated peace between the Sri Lankan government and LTTE rebels, paid a surprise visit to top separatist leaders in Srinagar on Friday. His visit comes days after India and Pakistan decided to develop the Kartarpur corridor.

Bondevik, who was Norway’s Prime Minister until 2005, is currently heading the Oslo Centre for Peace and Human Rights. The meeting with Hurriyat leaders Syed Ali Shah Geelani and Mirwaiz Umar Farooq took place at Geelani’s Hyderpora residence and was facilitated by spiritual guru Sri Sri Ravi Shankar’s Art of Living.

“When we received a call a day before the visit, we were surprised. This is our first such meeting with a foreign dignitary in six years. New Delhi had always objected to any such visit to us and for some time now, foreign diplomats would also hesitate to meet us,’’ Mirwaiz Umar Farooq told The Sunday Express. “It is clear that this visit was possible only after the go-ahead by New Delhi. Sri Sri Ravishankar’s representative was accompanying the former Norwegian PM,’’ Mirwaiz said. “He (Bondevik) told us that the main purpose of his visit is to assess the situation on the ground. We explained our viewpoint to him. We don’t know what will be the outcome of this initiative. But we are hopeful that this leads to a meaningful beginning between the two countries, especially at a time when the opening of the Kartarpur corridor has been the first such positive measure taken by the two countries in some time now,” he said.

“He told us that because relations between the two countries (India and Pakistan) have been frozen for some time now, there is a need to help bring it back on track. He said violence is a problem. He talked about the need to take both sides of Kashmir along as well,” he said, adding that Bondevik had come for a day and was accompanied by a representative of the Art of Living from Delhi. “He spoke to us and then had one or two meetings. He told us he would hold a few meetings with officials in Delhi before he heads to Pakistan where he will visit Azad Kashmir as well,” Mirwaiz said.

Mirwaiz said Bondevik told them that this “is a stage when India and Pakistan need assistance because there has been no forward movement (between the two countries) for four, five years”. Mirwaiz said they welcomed Bondevik’s initiative. “We told him that we are also convinced that this dispute has to be resolved peacefully. We told him there is an urgent need to put a stop on killings here. This morning too six local boys were killed. We told him that we were in a lot of pain because of this bloodshed,’’ he said. “We told him that there is a lot of anger among people against New Delhi’s militarised approach. We told him that nobody is listening to us and that all means of communication have been snapped.”

Mirwaiz said they also told Bondevik that “we can only help if both the countries exhibit the will and are ready to take the people on both sides of Kashmir on board”. A senior police officer told The Sunday Express that they had prior communication about the visit and clear direction to allow it. “He (Bondevik) also had a meeting with the Bar Association and the Kashmir Chamber (of Commerce and Industry) at the Sher-e-Kashmir International Conference Centre.” Besides, the former Norwegian PM met a “few pro-government activists but didn’t meet any official or top mainstream politician”, the officer added.