The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Pak readies for direct talks after Armitage

Islamabad, May 9 (PTI): Pakistan today voiced its unhappiness over India “picking holes” in its package of confidence-building measures (CBMs) but said it expected direct bilateral talks after US deputy secretary of state Richard Armitage concludes his visit to the subcontinent.

“We were very unhappy when (the) ministry of external affairs in Delhi tried to pick holes with what has been announced without considering how much greater was the sheer quantum of our package compared to that of India,” Pakistan foreign minister Khursheed Mehmood Kasuri said.

Pakistan Prime Minister Mir Zafarullah Khan Jamali has announced some “important” measures to restore air, rail and road links with India in addition to offering trade concessions under Saarc and release of Indian prisoners, he said.

“It is easy to pick faults with everything you do. Pakistan could have said India announced only two CBMs. We welcomed them. We could have repeated our known position on Kashmir,” he said.

Pakistan today gave acceptance to the name of career diplomat Shiv Shankar Menon as India’s new high commissioner to Islamabad, nearly 17 months after his predecessor Vijay Nambiar was recalled in the wake of the attack on Parliament.

In reply to a question, Kasuri said he hoped that after Armitage’s visit to the region, “we will start talking to each other as openly as we want. Whether we like it or not, it is common friends who will have to play some role. The sooner we talk to each other directly, the better”.

Armitage flew to Delhi today from here after holding talks with Pakistan President Pervez Musharraf, Jamali, Kasuri and other top officials.

Asked why Pakistan, while restoring air links, has not re-opened its airspace for Indian overflights, Kasuri said everything can’t be expected to be decided at once.

“The experts have to meet. Let the experts meet. Let there be some progress. I cannot say more. People who understand can understand.”

About the talks Armitage held with leaders in Islamabad, the Pakistani foreign minister said: “We told them that there are not any (terrorist) training camps. We have told them that President Musharraf means every word of what he said. And the President himself said so. Armitage and other US leaders repeatedly said Musharraf is a man of his words.”

Armitage, after his talks with Musharraf yesterday, had said that the General has given absolute assurance that there was no training camps and if there were any, they would be gone tomorrow.

Kasuri said that during the talks with Armitage “both Pakistan and the US spoke openly about whatever we have to say”. He added that like Armitage, he was also cautiously optimistic about the peace process between India and Pakistan.

Observing that the peace process has stirred the expectations of people in India, Pakistan as well as the world, he said: “It is incumbent on both the parties not to do anything to queer the pitch. Also the two countries should lower temperatures and come up with creative solutions, making major compromises initially.”

Kasuri said the US was genuinely interested in solving the disputes between Delhi and Islamabad. “We should not be apprehensive about the interest shown by America to solve India-Pakistan problems. Sometimes parties take intractable positions and need friends to help... It should be looked at positively rather than negatively,” he pointed out.

He said that the US interest has been negatively termed as pressure by some people and added: “I think it is a positive interest by the US, EU, Japan and China. We should look at it that way.”

On Islamabad’s relations with Washington, Kasuri said, “The ties have seen ups and downs over the years. Currently we have excellent relations with the US beginning from the year before the 9/11 attacks in America and it increased after that. The US is also India’s friend.”

On the domestic front, he said Jamali’s initiative to normalise ties with India enjoyed considerable political support. “Prime Minister Jamali secured total support from Opposition parties early this week. That is a positive development. It will encourage him to proceed on a fast track if India wanted. It can be done very soon,” he said.

But at the same time Islamabad was not suggesting any modalities on its own as it does not want to be seen contradicting Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee, he said. “It is up to India to decide whether it wants the peace process on a slow or fast track.”

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