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Musharraf tempers talks hope

“We have fought three wars in the past, so what is the guarantee in the future there won’t be any further action'”

Rawalpindi, June 16 (Reuters): President Pervez Musharraf said Pakistan would not be bullied by India over Kashmir and insisted he wanted peace in the region — but not on India’s terms.

Relations between the rivals have thawed in the last two months, since Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee opened the door to talks over Kashmir.

But Musharraf said in an interview late on Sunday he was not convinced of India’s genuine commitment to peace.

“I am not 100 per cent sure,” he said. “Talks should take place, they are moving very slowly, they need to move faster, they can move faster. Whether we move forward on the Kashmir issue, we will see, time will tell.”

Musharraf’s words appeared to throw further cold water on hopes for quick progress in easing tensions in South Asia.

In April, Vajpayee promised a final bid for peace with Pakistan in his lifetime, and both sides have since put forward confidence-building measures, including agreeing to restore full diplomatic ties.

New Delhi says it will not agree to start talks until Pakistan takes action to end the infiltration of militants into Kashmir, something Islamabad says it has already done.

“The problem with India is they are too conscious of their large size and they believe in coercing their neighbours,” Musharraf said. “They want to dictate terms to us, they want to dictate their version of a solution. We will not take that.”

“We will not compromise our sovereign equality,” he said. “Within these parameters we want peace, we want harmony. We will take three steps if they take one, but let them not treat us like any small country around. We are a powerful nation.”

He said India took every opportunity to malign Pakistan, and had tried to bully it last year by stationing hundreds of thousands of troops along the border after an attack on India’s Parliament.

Earlier on Sunday, India said it was “deeply disappointed” by Musharraf’s response to recent peace overtures, in particular by remarks he made to NDTV 24x7.

In that interview, Musharraf appeared not to rule out a recurrence of the 1999 Kargil clashes, comments New Delhi said condoned “military adventurism”.

But Musharraf said he had been quoted out of context.

“They are looking for an excuse to malign us, or to target me personally,” he said. “The issue is what I said. I said ‘if we don’t resolve this... anything can happen’.

“Why are they pinning it on me as though I am going to do something' I am not going to do anything.

“We have fought three wars in the past, so what is the guarantee in the future there won’t be any further action' That is not an aggressive statement, it is a statement of fact.”

Musharraf sets off later this week for a visit to Britain, the US, Germany and France, crowned by a meeting with US President George W. Bush on June 24.

He said he wanted the US to put more pressure on India over Kashmir.

“Any attempts to improve relations and deal with all issues by sidelining Kashmir will not work, it has never worked in the past,” he said.

Asked what role the US could play, he said: “Step one, start the dialogue. Step two, accept that Kashmir needs to be resolved for peace in the region.

“They are trying to do their best. Maybe they need to do more with India.”

Congress cautions

New Delhi: The Congress, usually in favour of a dialogue with Pakistan, today cautioned the Centre on its move to return to the talks table with Islamabad.

The party was referring to Musharraf’s reluctance to rule out another Kargil. Musharraf came across as an “unrepentant ruler”, Congress spokesman Jaipal Reddy said. So the Centre would do well not to lower its guard while renewing the dialogue, he said.

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