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Pak signals Kasuri visit with Atal invite

Islamabad, Sept. 15: Pakistan today confirmed that foreign minister Khursheed Mehmood Kasuri intends to visit India.

“Foreign minister Kasuri has the intention to go to India, where he will deliver an invitation for the forthcoming summit of the South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (Saarc) to Indian Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee,” foreign office spokesman Masood Khan said at a regular briefing.

But he added: “We will wait and see the kind of response by New Delhi on the proposed visit.” Khan said Kasuri would also visit Bhutan and the Maldives.

The foreign minister has already delivered invitations for January’s Saarc summit to Bangladesh, Nepal and Sri Lanka.

Saarc, which was formed in 1985, thanks to the initiative of slain Bangladesh President Zia-ur-Rehman, has failed in its objective of getting the seven South Asian nations to cooperate closely. This is chiefly because of continuing tension between Pakistan and India and disagreements on the South Asian Preferential Trade Agreement and the South Asian Free Trade Agreement.

Pakistan also wants the Saarc charter to be amended to allow member states to discuss political problems and disputes. But Delhi opposes any amendment.

Khan denied newspaper reports saying Kasuri had proposed that a joint Saarc combat force be raised to check military activity in Kashmir. “The foreign minister, in reply to a question, had only stated that Saarc could provide neutral observers,” the spokesman said. He added that Kasuri’s statement had been distorted and taken out of context.

Khan said Pakistan believed that monitoring along the Line of Control could be improved if a neutral observer force were deployed there.

The spokesman questioned a remark made by US assistant secretary of state Christina Rocca during her recent visit to India.

Rocca had said: “Cross-border infiltration remains a very important issue on Washington’s agenda with Pakistan.”

Khan responded by saying: “There is no cross-border infiltration going on right now.” He added that Islamabad had taken all steps to check infiltration and that Delhi should reciprocate now.

Rocca had told Indian businessmen: “The US will stand by India in its battle against terrorism just as India has stood with the US in its battle against terrorism.” The US official said collaboration with India, which began after the September 11, 2001 terror attacks, had been stepped up and was wide-ranging.

Rocca said the collaboration ranged from joint patrols in the Malacca straits to the inclusion of terrorist groups operating against India on the US foreign terrorist organisation list.

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