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Issues need to be resolved first: FO

January 09, 2007

ISLAMABAD, Jan 8: Pakistan said on Monday that Indian prime minister’s statement earlier in the day regarding his desire for a peace and security pact with Islamabad was in the context of something that might happen at a future date and not in the immediate term.

“We are working to normalise relations with India and for that it is important that we resolve the longstanding issues between us, and Kashmir being the most important of them,” Foreign Office spokesperson Tasneem Aslam told newsmen at a weekly press briefing.

“Once we are able to resolve the outstanding issues then perhaps we can move towards such a scenario,” she said.

The spokesperson was non-committal when asked whether India had shown any flexibility on the issue of Kashmir, and simply referred to the Indian prime minister’s recent public statements welcoming the various ideas floated by President Pervez Musharraf to move forward for a settlement of the Kashmir dispute.

In reply to a question about the UN resolutions on Kashmir, Ms Tasneem Aslam said they were alive and Kashmir was still on the UN Security Council agenda.

To a question regarding the APHC delegation’s visit to Pakistan, she said: “We welcome these visits.”

Replying to another query, the spokesperson stated that the international community had been encouraging both Pakistan and India to resolve the Kashmir dispute.

“We welcome the interest of the international community in the resolution of disputes between Pakistan and India for establishment of durable peace in this region,” she said.

AGREEMENTS: The spokesperson said that a number of agreements between Pakistan and India were in the works, and indicated that if procedural requirements were completed by the time of Indian foreign minister’s visit here later this week they could be signed or announced.

“Three or four agreements are in the pipeline and mostly the content has been negotiated and settled and they are awaiting completion of procedural requirements,” she said in response to a query.

The spokesperson did not deem it appropriate to go into the specifics of the proposals exchanged between the two sides on liberalizing visa regime at this stage, but added: “Of course it is in our interest to have these agreements at the earliest so that genuine travellers are able to undertake visits.”

In reply to a question about Indian foreign minister’s visit to Pakistan, the spokesperson said during his visit to Pakistan the two sides would review the third round of the composite dialogue that was concluded last year with the meeting of the two foreign secretaries in Delhi.

“We expect the next round of the composite dialogue to begin afterwards,” she said.

When asked about the significance of the visit, Ms Aslam’s response was: “Obviously whenever the foreign ministers meet they review the bilateral relations, specifically the peace process that is taking place between the two countries and also see how we move forward from here. And perhaps they may have some guidelines for the next round.”

In reply to a question, the spokesperson said it would be up to the Government of Pakistan to decide who would represent the country at the upcoming Saarc summit in India.

AFGHANISTAN: In reply to a question about whether Pakistan has sought international community’s help to mine its border with Afghanistan, the spokesperson said: “We have not sought anyone’s support and we have no intention of seeking support. This is something we are considering inside our territory and on our own.”

She said fencing and mining would be done on the basis of recommendations made by the army after it conducted a survey to identify the problem areas along the border.

She told a questioner that the army should be approached to check when the survey would be initiated as it had been tasked to work out modalities for it.

On President Pervez Musharraf’s recent statement that Pakistan had consulted all its allies before taking the decision to selectively fence and mine the border, the spokesperson remained evasive and declined to specify the countries.

“This was discussed with the visiting foreign dignitaries, with mostly countries that are involved in Afghanistan and are partners. They have been informed about it.”

She termed speculative the Afghan new agency’s report that Pakistan had already started building the fence and laying landmines along the border.

Emphatically defending the government’s decision to selectively mine the border, Ms Tasneen Aslam reiterated the foreign secretary’s statement that this extraordinary measure was being taken in response to an extraordinary situation that Pakistan faced.

She said that all precautionary measures would be taken to ensure that there was no loss of life or limb.

Discarding the criticism on the Pakistan’s decision to lay landmines, she stated: “It is the life of our people, it is the protection and safety of our people. Surely nobody can be more concerned than Pakistan.”

Underscoring that landmines would not be laid all along the border, she said once the problem areas were identified for mining by the army the government would properly publicize them.

She also referred to stricter monitoring of refugee camps and introduction of documentation for people crossing over from either side of the border as other measures being taken by Pakistan to check militant activity.

About the establishment of a Jirga Commission announced by Prime Minister Shaukat Aziz during his visit to Kabul last week, the spokesperson said: “We expect the composition of the commission to be finalized in the next few days.”

She said the commission would be interacting with its counterpart on the Afghan side to work out the modalities for holding the jirgas.