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Since 1st March, 1999
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Pervez prod to Atal meet

New Delhi, June 13 (Reuters): Pervez Musharraf has said he would be “more than happy” to take part in talks with Atal Bihari Vajpayee, if the latter were willing to meet him.

The Pakistan President said in an interview with NDTV broadcast today that after previous failed summits, he had felt his Prime Minister Zafarullah Khan Jamali might be a better person to meet Vajpayee.

He said the failure of the Agra summit in 2001 had led to “a campaign of maligning me and my government”.

“I thought (that) in the present context, the Prime Minister may be a better person to meet him, but if he is willing to meet me, I would be more than happy.”

NDTV said the interview was conducted with Musharraf in Islamabad last week, but gave no date. After Vajpayee’s promise for a final bid for peace in his lifetime, rekindling hopes of a rapprochement, the two Prime Ministers have spoken by telephone and both sides have put forward confidence-building steps, but no date has been set for talks.

Pakistan has said it is willing to talk any time, but India says Islamabad must first end the infiltration into Kashmir.

A statement from NDTV said Musharraf reiterated in a part of the interview that has yet to be broadcast that Kashmir needed to be at the centre of any talks.

“We can talk of trade and economy and other issues, but no talks will succeed unless the core issue is addressed,” he said. “We don’t trust you when you say that we should focus on trade. We see it as an attempt to sideline the main issue of Kashmir.”

According to NDTV, Musharraf said he would like to see sporting ties resume — something Pakistan has proposed. But he called cricket a “trivial issue”. Pakistani players did not in any case want to play India, he said.

Musharraf rejected a suggestion that incursions into India’s side of Kargil, that shattered dialogue in 1999 and brought the countries close to war, had been a mistake.

“No, I don’t think so. I don’t think so at all. I think the main issue of whatever happened at Kargil was the issue of Kashmir which is in the limelight now.”

Asked if another such incident was possible, he said: “(It) depends on how we proceed on the peace track and how things develop. No one can say ‘yes, we will have another Kargil’, but certainly we need to resolve the dispute.” Musharraf said Kargil has showed that India and Pakistan “cannot go to war, must not go to war and disputes need to be resolved. This is the international concern”.

He also rejected the suggestion that what India says was a 45 per cent turnout in the Kashmir election showed the poll had been democratic and fair. “I am 100 per cent sure of one thing: Kashmiris do not want to be with India. I am 100 per cent sure of that.”

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