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Putin raises Pakistan arms alert

Washington, Nov. 23: A fortnight before his journey to India, Russian President Vladimir Putin has sent a veiled message to the Americans against ongoing attempts in Washington to restore arms sales to Pervez Musharraf’s armed forces.

Speaking at a joint media interaction along with US President George W. Bush in St Petersburg yesterday, Putin raised serious concerns about Pakistan’s stability and the fate of weapons of mass destruction in its armoury.

Putin’s concerns were carefully timed to send a conciliatory message to South Block, which has debated — but not yet expressed — nagging worries about recent signals from Moscow to Islamabad.

The Russian foreign ministry, in a statement on October 14, said “the line announced by the administration of Pervez Musharraf towards restoring and strengthening the constitutional norms of Pakistani statehood and democratising the country’s socio-political life has found its confirmation”.

The statement had surprised New Delhi, which had previously shared its impressions of General Pervez Musharraf’s rigged democracy and found resonance in Moscow for its views.

Three days after this statement, New Delhi’s doubts were reinforced by a statement by Russian deputy foreign minister Vyacheslav Anchikov committing his country to a key role in the controversial gas pipeline through Afghanistan and Pakistan.

Around the same time, arrangements for deputy Prime Minister L.K. Advani’s visit to Moscow went into a spin, forcing Advani to call off the visit at the eleventh hour.

Although equations between New Delhi and Moscow are firmly back on track with intense discussions and some agreements in the run up to Putin’s trip to New Delhi, the Russian President’s public expression of concern about Pakistan will end any remaining doubts in South Block about Russia’s policy.

Putin was not required to say anything on Pakistan at yesterday’s media appearance. The question he was asked was whether Bush had sought Russian help in the oncoming war against Iraq.

But the Russian President digressed and went out of his way to talk about Pakistan.

“Where is Osama bin Laden hiding' Reportedly somewhere between Pakistan and Afghanistan,” Putin said.

He then proceeded to bracket Pakistan along with Iraq to the visible discomfiture of the US President.

“We know what Mr Musharraf is doing to achieve stability in his country and we are supporting him. But what can happen with armies armed with weapons that exist in Pakistan, including weapons of mass destruction, we are not sure on that aspect and we should not forget about that,” Putin said.

That the Russian President suo motu spoke about Pakistan in the presence of his US counterpart will be taken note of in New Delhi for two reasons.

Firstly, Bush and Putin have developed a strong personal affinity and created a viable working equation. To the point where Bush supported Putin’s actions, including the use of gas in the Moscow theatre, reportedly over objections from some of his aides.

The American leader weighs with consideration whatever his Russian counterpart says.

Secondly, after several terrorist acts against India culminating in the attack on Parliament on December 13 last year, Putin personally put across an Indian perspective on terrorism in a conversation with President Bush.

It was after that conversation between the Russian and American Presidents that Washington stopped asking India to show restraint against Pakistan.

By equating Pakistan and Iraq and worrying about Musharraf’s weapons of mass destruction, Putin clearly intends to signal New Delhi that he shares South Block’s concerns about arms sales now being negotiated by Pakistanis in Washington.

But how far Putin will stick his neck out on this issue — or how effective he will be — depends on how the Indian leadership reacts to the Russian President’s signal sent out from St Petersburg.

At yesterday's media interaction, Putin also lashed

out at those who finance terrorism. He attacked Saudi

Arabia, a close US ally, which also one of Musharraf's

biggest benefactors.

"We should not forget about those who finance

terrorism", Putin said, once again, without being

asked anything about terrorist financing.

"Of the 19 terrorists who committed the main attacks

on

September 11 against the US, 16 are citizens of Saudi

Arabia, and we should not forget about that".

(ENDS)

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