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Border fencing with Afghanistan being considered: FO

March 07, 2006

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ISLAMABAD, March 6: Pakistan on Monday declared that the expectations it had of US President George W. Bush’s visit have been met and termed the launching of Pakistan-US strategic dialogue as an important milestone.

“Let me assure you expectations we have had of this visit, they have been met,” Foreign Office spokesperson Tasnim Aslam categorically stated while responding to a question at a weekly news briefing here.

“We now have a formal structured strategic dialogue mechanism in place and under this dialogue process our foreign secretary and his US counterpart would be discussing all aspects of bilateral relations and implementation of broad principles that have been agreed to during the visit,” she said.

Outlining various elements of the strategic dialogue, the spokesperson specifically referred to peace and security in South Asia and beyond, trade and investment and access to the US market.

CIVIL N-TECH: Spokesperson Tasnim Aslam said the question of civilian nuclear technology was discussed with President Bush and added: “And we will continue to discuss this.”

However, she pointed out that Pakistan had several options and it would be looking at all of them. In this context she mentioned the high-level energy dialogue established during the US president’s visit and said under that dialogue Pakistan would also explore various options available to it to meet its growing energy requirements. However, the spokesperson declined to elaborate on these options.

In a veiled reference to India on the proliferation issue Ms Aslam asserted: “In this region we were not the first to proliferate and that is a fact.” She added: “Let me remind you that no country which has a nuclear know-how can claim that it has a perfectly impeccable record.”

AFGHANISTAN: When the FO spokesperson’s attention was drawn to the mounting tension and sharp differences between Pakistan and Afghanistan, she said this issue was also discussed with President Bush. She disclosed that the Centcom Chief Gen Abizaid would be coming to Pakistan shortly.

“It is in everybody’s interest that whatever differences we may have should not impact our common goal that is the war against terrorism,” Ms Aslam observed.

Referring to President Musharraf’s recent statements on the issue she said: “He is rightly upset because the purpose of Afghan leak was to malign Pakistan and not to really get information or intelligence-sharing. If that were the case the Afghan government didn’t need to wait for conveying the information for the US president’s visit or for President Karzai’s visit to Pakistan.”

She said that intelligence could have been shared with Pakistan and also with the CIA immediately as there were mechanisms in place and they were in regular contact.

“Afghan side really needs to be serious on this issue and they need to do their part,” the FO spokesperson emphatically stated. “There is no lack of effort on our side and we expect the same level of commitment from Afghanistan,” she added.

The spokesperson ruled out deployment of additional troops by Pakistan on its Western border, saying that more than 82,000 soldiers already deployed there were sufficient. She was quick to point out these were far more than the combined troops of Afghanistan, ISAF and the US. “What we need is equally strong, committed and sincere action from the other side,” she emphasized.

Replying to a question she said if terrorists were coming from Afghanistan into Pakistan what was required was that the US troops, ISAF and Afghan forces take action to stop these movements.

FENCING: Responding to a question she clearly indicated that Pakistan was seriously considering the option of fencing its side of the border despite the Karzai government’s opposition to the idea. “We are working on fencing the border,” she categorically stated. “If we fence our side of the border we don’t need anyone’s permission,” she told a questioner. “Given these repeated allegations and incursions which are taking place into Pakistan we would consider it seriously,” she said.

KASHMIR: To a question about the US role on the Kashmir issue, Ms Aslam said: “The US is engaged and it has said repeatedly, the US President has said it and other senior functionaries of the US administration have said it that they are facilitating, encouraging and nudging the two sides. So they continue to play that role.”

She underscored: “Essentially the Jammu and Kashmir dispute has to be resolved by Pakistan and India in consultation and taking into account the wishes of Kashmiri people. And that’s what is on track.”

GAS PIPELINE: On the Iran-Pakistan-India gas pipeline project, Spokesperson Aslam said it was in tact. She underlined that Pakistan had always maintained that it was fully committed to it.—Q.A.