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Khatami potshot at Gujarat-stuck Pervez

Islamabad, Dec. 24: President Pervez Musharraf has raised the Gujarat carnage at a high-profile banquet, only to be gently reminded later by his guest and Iranian President Mohammad Khatami of the sectarian strife involving the majority Sunni and the minority Shia sects in Pakistan.

However, Khatami said he is prepared to help Islamabad and Delhi reduce tensions and resolve outstanding issues like the dispute over Kashmir.

The Iranian President, on a three-day state visit to Pakistan, said at the time of heightened tensions between India and Pakistan earlier this year, he had taken the initiative to defuse the situation. Khatami said he spoke to Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee as well as Musharraf and had sent his foreign minister to hold talks with leaders of the two countries.

Asked at a joint press conference for his comments on the attacks on Muslims in Gujarat, Khatami said he condemned atrocities against all human beings.

“We are against any kind of brutalities and atrocities against human beings anywhere in the world, especially when it happens against Muslims. No matter where they are, whether it is Palestine, India or anywhere,” he said.

“A major problem we are facing in our region is sectarian violence and sectarian differences. We have to face this sinister phenomenon. We should try to build a world where all people of the world can live in peace with different faiths and pursuits,” he said. Khatami’s comment is being seen as an indirect reference to the large-scale sectarian violence in Pakistan.

At a banquet hosted for Khatami last night, Musharraf had accused the BJP government in India of “cynically encouraging” communal riots. “What has happened in Gujarat has finally exposed the myth of Indian secularism,” he had said.

Khatami said the proposed multi-million dollar gas pipeline from Iran to India through Pakistan could bring economic prosperity to all the three countries, but not in the absence of peace and security in the region.

The issue, he said, came up for discussion in his talks with the Pakistan Prime Minister and he is satisfied with the assurance given by the Pakistani leader that there will be no disruption in the supply of gas to India. “At my next meeting, we will try to remove India’s apprehensions (about Pakistani guarantees).”

But, he said, as economic progress is linked to peace and security, he is concentrating on initiating a dialogue between India and Pakistan.

Musharraf said he hoped that Iran will help resolve the long-running Kashmir dispute in line with the UN resolutions. “We deeply appreciate Iran’s efforts to defuse tensions between Pakistan and India,” he said.

Khatami avoided talking about the past differences between Iran and Pakistan on the role of the Taliban regime and said the two countries are now committed to the reconstruction drive in Afghanistan. Pakistan and Iran also decided to strengthen defence cooperation.

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