TOKYO, March 13: President Gen Pervez Musharraf said on Wednesday that Pakistan had no intention of entering into a nuclear arms race with India even though it was aware of New Delhi’s regional and international aspirations in these fields.

“We are forced to maintain a deterrence capacity against the massive Indian nuclear arsenal,” he said while addressing the international media at Japan National Press Club here.

The President said we honour Japan’s views and concerns about nuclear issues. “We are not for nuclear escalation. We only want to maintain deterrence.”

He said Pakistan did not initiate the race but it was forced by India to maintain deterrence to thwart any threat emanating from the neighbouring country.

About signing the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty (CTBT), the President said he understood Japan’s concerns, but said: “It is very contentious issue for the people of Pakistan because they see this as compromise on the deterrence value of Pakistan.

“We are aware of your concerns, we would like to give very seriously look into it and we are looking into it, but please give us some more time,” he said.

“Ratification of CTBT is not waiting the signature from Pakistan alone. Time can be afforded to Pakistan,” he said.

Talking about tension between India and Pakistan, President Musharraf said the relations between the two countries had never been good. He said at the moment both the forces were eyeball to eyeball on borders and it was a dangerous situation.

“Pakistan wants peace and stability in South Asia on the basis of sovereign equality, honour and dignity. We will guard our honour and dignity jealously,” he said.

The President termed Indian reaction to deploy forces on Pakistani borders as immature, knee-jerk, very impulsive and unfortunate.

He told the journalists that with US efforts there was a degree of reduction in the tension but said the world should assist in bringing peace to his region since bilateralism had failed.

“We urge the world community to assist in bringing peace into the region. Bilateralism in South Asia has failed in the past over these 50 years,” the President said.

“We (India and Pakistan) have not been able to address our problems and therefore I urge all those who exercise influence ... I urge Japan to use its influence to bring peace and stability into an area which is most economically deprived.”

President Musharraf said the search for peace had to address the disputed region of Kashmir.

“Kashmir is the core issue which cannot be denied by anyone, we have fought three wars on it, we are killing each other daily along the line of control,” Gen Musharraf said.

When asked what could be the realistic solution of Kashmir issue, the President said Kashmir issue was very close to our heart. “Talking of the solution may be premature. We should go step by step.”

The President also talked about the recent anti-Muslim riots in the Indian state of Gujarat and expressed deep concern over the Hindu extremism and terrorism in the state.

“This is an internal issue but I will urge the Indian government to take note of it and protect Muslims against Hindu extremism,” he said.

Replying to a question about image of Islam, the President said that perceptions about Islam were distorted due to uneducated version of Islam, which was being propagated around. “What has been said about this great religion is far from the truth.”

Gen Musharraf said the people who attacked the United States were not religious extremists.

“The motivation was not the religion, it was the political disputes around the world.”

Speaking about Pakistan’s internal situation, Gen Musharraf said the country was facing great challenges after Sept 11 but it also provided us equal number of opportunities and we were trying to avail it. We were seeking Japan’s help to transform these challenges into opportunities,” he said.

The President said he would ask Japanese Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi during his meeting on Thursday to consider a reduction in interest rates on Japan’s share of Pakistan’s recently re-scheduled 12.5 billion dollars debt with the Paris Club group of creditor governments, but did not specify by how much.

“Very humbly, I would request the prime minister to consider the issue of the interest rates on this debt, but I leave it to the prime minister to decide how much assistance possibly he can give to Pakistan on the issue of the debts,” Gen Musharraf said.

The President also told reporters Pakistan should emulate Japan’s example in succeeding in developing into an advanced nation while preserving its traditional culture intact.

“I am here to witness first-hand the extraordinary achievement and the development of Japan as a modern nation and yet preserving its tradition and culture,” he said.

“Progress and modernisation is essential, but preservation of traditional culture is one area where we should emulate the Japanese example.”

Earlier, during a meeting with Japanese Foreign Minister Yoriko Kawaguchi, Musharraf denied any military relations between Pakistan and North Korea, saying Islamabad was developing missiles purely for self-defence.

Gen Musharraf held a separate meeting with Japan’s trade minister Takeo Hiranuma, and called on Tokyo to expand Japanese support for small and medium-sized firms in Pakistan.

Hiranuma told Gen Musharraf that Japan would respond positively, including sending experts to train local managers of small businesses. -Agencies

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