The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Islamabad prod for Saarc trip

Islamabad, Nov. 27 (Reuters): Pakistan’s new civilian government today prodded arch rival India to improve relations, suggesting a regional summit due in January was a good opportunity for an informal bilateral meeting.

(However, national security adviser Brajesh Mishra said in Delhi that “in the absence of any substance to the Saarc summit in Pakistan in January, it is very difficult for Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee to go to Islamabad”. He added that Pakistan has “done absolutely nothing to end cross-border terrorism”.)

Foreign minister Mian Khurshid Mehmood Kasuri also reiterated Pakistan’s position that it had not helped North Korea develop its nuclear weapons programme in return for missile technology.

Kasuri said the new government, sworn in at the weekend, wanted to move forward on India-Pakistan relations, poisoned by their dispute over Kashmir, which took them to the brink of war earlier this year.

“Every sensible Pakistani and every sensible Indian wants to improve relations between the two countries and we have suffered as a result of our bad relations,” he said.

“We can only indicate to the government of India that the government of Prime Minister (Mir Zafarullah Khan) Jamali would like to improve relations,” he added.

Jamali, in a brief statement soon after winning the prime ministerial election, said he wanted to improve relations with all of the country’s neighbours.

Kasuri said the best way forward would be for Jamali and Indian Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee to hold a meeting on the sidelines of the Saarc summit due in January in Pakistan.

“You asked me whether something could be done quickly. Well we have invited the Prime Minister of India to come to Saarc. The ball is in their court now,” Kasuri said.

India has not said it would attend, and refused past offers of talks saying Pakistan must stop sending militants into Kashmir, a charge denied by Islamabad.

On Wednesday, Indian defence minister George Fernandes told Parliament that Indian and Pakistani troops were withdrawing to peace-time locations.

“I am sure it (the pull-back) is largely because the Indians have realised that Pakistan cannot be brow-beaten. But it is also the role which the international community has played.”

Referring to the controversy over reports that Pakistan had helped North Korea develop its nuclear weapons programme, the foreign minister said Pakistan had not violated any agreements. “Pakistan is a very responsible country, we have not violated any missile technology control regime, we have not allowed export of any nuclear material,” he said.

US secretary of state Colin Powell told reporters in Mexico City yesterday that Pakistan’s President Pervez Musharraf had repeatedly assured him that Islamabad had not helped North Korea.

Kasuri said despite strong opposition from an alliance of Islamic parties who did well in a recent general election, Jamali’s government would continue with Musharraf's policies on the war against terror.

“We feel that the policy adopted by President Musharraf was in the interest of Pakistan’s national security as well as the wider national interest of Pakistan. We intend to continue with that policy and I don’t see any problems,” he said.

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