Fri, May 09, 2003 - Page 5 News List

Pakistan tells US its next step on India

RECONCILIATION Discussions on the relations between Islamabad and New Delhi dominated US envoy Richard Armitage's meeting with various Pakistani officials

AP , ISLAMABAD

In meetings with US Deputy Secretary of State Richard Armitage, Pakistani leaders said they were ready for a "meaningful" dialogue with nuclear rival India.

They also said they wanted New Delhi to allow international monitoring of the disputed Kashmir border to verify that Islamic militants aren't crossing from Pakistan to stage attacks -- a charge leveled by India.

Relations between the hostile South Asian neighbors, who recently began tentative steps toward reconciliation, dominated Armitage's meetings in Islamabad, which also included discussions about Afghanistan and the US-led war on terror.

"During the talks with Richard Armitage, Pakistan will tell him that we are ready for a meaningful and constructive round of talks with India," Information Minister Sheikh Rashid Ahmed said yesterday.

Foreign ministry officials said the message was conveyed to Armitage, who also met Prime Minister Zafarullah Khan Jamali and had a working lunch with Foreign Minister Khursheed Kasuri. He was meeting President Pervez Musharraf, and was scheduled to leave Pakistan early today for Afghanistan before visiting India tomorrow.

"We will tell him [Armitage] that no activity is taking place along the Line of Control in Kashmir that we have played our role for peace in the region," Ahmed said.

"Pakistan is a front line state in the war against terrorism. We have a better record of arresting the terrorists than any other country in the world," he said.

A key issue in resolving decades of bitterness between India and Pakistan is Kashmir. Before talks, India says it wants an end to what it calls cross-border terrorism stoking violence in its part of Kashmir. Pakistan denies giving aid to militant Kashmiris, but says the mountainous frontier is impossible to seal.

Pakistan wants international monitors at the frontier to verify its claim that it is not giving official assistance to militants, who have been fighting since 1989 for either outright independence from India or union with Islamic Pakistan.

Violent attacks in Indian Kashmir have been on the rise in recent months, increasing fears that militants are crossing in larger numbers.

Ahmed called for Washington to back a referendum in Kashmir on who should rule the territory.

"I think, the time has come when America should support the UN resolutions on Kashmir" that call for such a vote, Ahmed said.

India rejects a vote saying Kashmir's future should be decided between India and Pakistan.

In recent peace initiatives, the two countries have pledged to restore full diplomatic ties, restart air links and lift some trade restrictions.

But both countries say the approach to peace will be slow. Talks between leaders may be a long way off, most analysts and government officials say.

In New Delhi, lawmakers in the federal parliament debated the peace moves.

The opposition Congress party leader, Sonia Gandhi, accused the government of having a contradictory policy.

"The government has been vacillating from one extreme to another, occasionally giving the impression that we are responding to external pressure," she said.

In response to critics at home, leaders of both India and Pakistan insist the diplomatic thaw thus far has not been choreographed by the US. Both sides and Armitage deny Washington has a "road map" for peace in South Asia, a reference to the US-backed initiative for peace between Israelis and Palestinians.

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