The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Pak pins talks hope on troop withdrawal

Islamabad, Oct. 21: Pakistan today hoped withdrawal of troops would lead to resumption of dialogue between Islamabad and New Delhi, saying negotiation is the real measure of “tension subsiding” in South Asia.

Pakistan’s stand has been vindicated by the Indian decision to withdraw its troops, foreign office spokesman Aziz Ahmed Khan said at a weekly briefing, adding that he hopes “good sense will prevail and it will (also) come to negotiating table for dialogue”.

Asked whether the withdrawal of troops will lead to resumption of dialogue between the two countries, the spokesman said: “We hope so.”

“We hope as the troops withdraw, tension would subside but (the) real measure of tension-subsiding would be to sit across the negotiating table and start talking to each other.”

Pakistan, he said, wants good relations will all its neighbours. But, he recalled, Pakistan was forced to deploy troops in the defensive posture after India massed its army on the border in offensive position.

Khan said Pakistan has since been calling for de-escalation and withdrawal of troops to peacetime locations.

The spokesman, however, made it clear that the resolution of all disputes, including the core Kashmir issue, was only possible if India came to the negotiating table.

Responding to a question, Khan said Pakistan has welcomed reports that Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee will attend the summit meeting of the South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (Saarc). “Participation of all members is important for the smooth functioning of Saarc,” he added.

Pakistan is looking forward to hold the next Saarc meeting early next year, he said. Asked about the re-appointment of ambassadors, the spokesman said Pakistan has not received any intimation in this regard. It was India which took this move, he added.

On India’s decision to allow civilian aircraft to fly over its territory, he said the matter was under consideration.

To a question, Khan said Pakistan has always participated and made positive contributions to Saarc and wants this regional grouping to be successful.

He dismissed as “baseless and tendentious” reports of allegation of Pakistan providing nuclear know-how to North Korea. “Pakistan has never supplied any nuclear material or technology to any country, including North Korea,” the spokesman said, adding that Pakistan is a responsible country and its nuclear programme is under strict safeguard.

Replying to a question, Khan said reports of coalition forces vacating bases in Pakistan was with regard to the functioning of the International Security Force (Isaf) which was using the airports on a commercial basis for supplying equipment. Pakistan, he said, will continue to provide logistic support to the international coalition against terror.

The spokesman said constituents of the Mutthida Majlis-e-Amal have always been mainstream parties taking part in all previous elections. It was wrong to call them religious extremists, he said, adding that one MMA party has also headed a provincial government in the past and they all have been part and parcel of Pakistan politics.

Khan said he cannot make any predictions about the policies of the future government but there probably will be no change in the foreign policy.

Military spokesman Maj. Gen Rashid Qureshi was quoted as saying Pakistan will pull back troops from its internationally recognised border with India. He, however, but refused to specify numbers or time. “Pakistan will withdraw all its troops to peacetime locations,” Qureshi said.

The Pakistani announcement to withdraw troops came on Thursday in response to India’s decision a day earlier to demilitarise the international border, signalling the biggest step towards de-escalation in the tense 10-month military standoff between the nuclear neighbours.

“It was India that had massed troops on our borders,” Qureshi said. “We committed that for every one step India would take, Pakistan would take two. (This withdrawal) is more than two in fact.”

Qureshi refused to disclose how many soldiers will be pulled back from battle-ready positions, deeming such information classified.

It is understood that Pakistan has some 300,000 troops deployed both along the international border and the Line o Control, while India has some 500,000 soldiers on the international border and around 250,000 along the LoC.

India’s military commanders began a five-day meeting in New Delhi today to assess the military situation following its troop withdrawal decision.

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