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RAWALPINDI, March 6: President Gen Pervez Musharraf has said Pakistan is focused on improving its economy and alleviating poverty and eradicating terrorism from its soil and is not interested in joining a “numerical arms race” with India.

“We are pursuing our national interests as other countries do. We are not in competition with India. India has global and regional aspirations. We do not have such aspirations. Our aspirations are defensive. We want to create jobs, reduce poverty,” he told senior media persons of the country invited to his Camp Office in Rawalpindi following the visit of US President George Bush to the region.

President Musharraf described the results flowing from Mr Bush’s weekend visit to Islamabad as “positive”. Pakistan-US relations were institutionalized, broad-based, long-term and multifaceted, he said, advising his countrymen to stop being India-centric.

“They (the Indians) are going in a different direction and we are going in a different direction,” he explained.

He agreed when reminded that it was the Pakistani army and the foreign office, which had drummed these India-centric ideas in the minds of Pakistanis over the last 60 years. He felt the government, the foreign office, the political leadership and the media should try to remove this India fixation, but added with a smile:” The army will still remain India-centric for obvious reasons.”

N-PROGRAMME: Discussing specifically Pakistan’s nuclear programme, the president said Pakistan did not need any cooperation from outside for advancing the programme; “it is on and it will go on.”

He said he was willing to buy F-16s if they came under the EAD concessional facility of Non-Nato Alliance arrangement. Otherwise, it would be in the self-interest of Pakistan to spend the money on social sectors to reduce poverty, and spread educational and health facilities.

“How much should we spend on defence? We do not want to spend more on F-16s. We are a poor country. We want to strengthen our economy and alleviate poverty,” he said.

There were other cost effective options as well and other sources for acquiring such weapons systems, he said. One option is the $600 million assistance from the US, half of which is for defence purchases.

He assured the nation that the lethality and the accuracy of the weapons system, which Pakistan already possesses and plans to acquire in the near future, were more than enough to maintain an effective minimum deterrence level and “if at all at some future date, some gaps emerged then we will move quickly to fill them.”

KASHIR ISSUE: He said he was in contact with the US on Kashmir even before the US President’s visit and that Pakistan expected Washington to continue to play the role of a facilitator. “We will have to tackle and resolve the issue at the bilateral level.”

President Musharraf appeared hopeful of progress on his four-point proposal on resolving the Kashmir conflict as he said he saw some discussions going on the self-governance issue. His four-point included: 1. Identify Kashmir as a problem, 2. Demilitarization, 3.Self-governance and 4. Joint management.

He said he did not know why Prime Minister Manmohan Singh had not come to Pakistan so far, “but I would also like to see some substantive progress made when and if such a visit takes place”.

PALESTINE: He said he also discussed with the US President the Palestine issue and informed him that in his view Hamas should be given an opportunity to govern as they have won a fair and free election. “I am happy to note that President Bush wants to help resolve both the Kashmir and Palestine issues.”

The president referred to the joint statement issued at the end of President Bush’s visit in which the two countries have agreed to establish a robust defence relation with the prospect of technology transfer.

ENERGY NEEDS: He said the US had promised to look into Pakistan’s energy needs and strengthen a broad range of options. “We need energy, we need gas, we need hydroelectricity and we need to add massively to our present energy capacities by 2008-10. The US recognizes this. We are getting one more 300mw nuclear power plant from China. We need a 1000mw nuclear power plant from the US.”

DR KHAN: He said some problems linked to Dr. A.Q. Khan still stood in the way. “Every time a new aspect of the clandestine trade comes to the fore, they come asking why the doctor did not reveal it earlier. And there are two more doctors, Dr Jaffery and Dr Farooq, whom the US wants to interrogate. We will not hand them over to anybody .We will question them using our own methodology and if they (the US) have any questions they can send them to us.”

TRILATERAL GAS PIPELINE: Discussing the Iran-Pakistan-India gas pipeline, the president said that no one (from the US) had ever asked him about this project and referred President Bush’s remarks on the subject at the press conference in which he very clearly said the US had objections to Iran’s nuclear ambitions and not to any other matter.

Since it was a trilateral project, there would be delays in taking the project in hand. “But if the delays are inordinate, we would make it a bilateral project,” he said.

TERRORISM: He said he had an extensive discussion with President Bush on terrorism. In this connection, he said he had a four-point strategy: 1.Use of force against militants, 2.Take administrative actions to address the Taliban activity and activate the Agency Councils, 3. Encourage progressive forces in the affected areas and 4. Start reconstruction and uplift activity in these areas.

Elaborating the last point, the president said the US had agreed to accept duty free imports of items manufactured in backward areas to be designated as Reconstruction Opportunity Zones (ROZ).

He said Industry Minister Jehangir Tareen had already made a presentation in this connection identifying various sectors like agriculture, social welfare and manufacturing with a budget of Rs6.5 billion. “We are sure we can even get Rs10 billion for this project from the US,” the president said.

AFGHANISTAN: Discussing Afghanistan, the president said he detected a conspiracy behind the recent bad mouthing of Pakistan by the Afghan leadership and he briefed Mr Bush likewise. “Those conspiring against Pakistan are still living in the decade of 1990s when the Northern Alliance was being helped by other regional countries in their struggle against the Taliban and we were on the other side. But times have changed and our strategy today is totally different from what it was in the 1990s,” he reminded.

He said there were elements in the Afghan intelligence, the defence ministry and foreign elements that are trying to create problems for Pakistan and “I have given President Bush documented proof of it. General Abizaid the US Centcom chief is also coming to Pakistan and I will discuss the matter with him.”

He said two-third of the telephone numbers Mr Karzai gave him during his last visit were dead numbers. “But we are trying to find out about the remaining numbers. The geo-coordinates, which he provided, were all outdated. All these houses are now being occupied by families unrelated to Taliban or Al Qaeda, if Mullah Omar or Gulbadien Hikmatyar had visited these houses, then it must be long time ago when these families were not in occupation of these houses.”

President Musharraf said he had also asked President Bush to help Pakistan set up an institution of excellence on the lines of the one set up in India (Indian Institute of Technology). “We already have made arrangements on these lines between our universities and those in France, Germany, Netherlands, Austria, South Africa and Italy. President Bush liked the idea, they want to help us.”

BLASPHEMOUS CARTOONS: He said he conveyed the anger and sentiments of the Muslims on the blasphemous cartoons and suggested framing an international law against such transgressions. “But they have their own sensitivities. We told them our concern. They acknowledged it. We need to take it forward.”

DEMOCRACY: Answering a question on democracy, he said there is no pressure on him from any quarter on this aspect and added that his vision of democracy was that the progressive forces should join him against the forces of extremism.

SECURITY: In reply to another question, he said the Indo-US strategic relations and their defence agreements would certainly be seen as impacting on Pakistan’s security,” but I can assure you that our defence capability has never been so effective. In a short period, it will be even more effective.”

He said Fata was the source of terrorism. “This is Pakistan’s concern. There are hundreds of foreigners staying in Fata. The agreements they entered into earlier were all bluff. They double crossed us.”

When informed of fears that like in the past the US would again abandon Pakistan after its objectives were achieved, the president said, the situation was totally different today from what it was in the cold war days. “Then the focus was on Nato, Warsaw, Berlin wall. Today the focus of the world is on the Gulf, the Middle East, Kashmir, nuclear flashpoint and more over Pakistan is in the centre of the arc of turmoil for any one to even think of abandoning Pakistan.”

Asked why he had restricted the terms of prime ministers, but fixed no date for doffing his uniform, he said he would make the decision on his uniform, “and I will not violate the constitution”.