LAHORE, April 4: Islamabad has proposed that Afghan refugees staying in Pakistan should be registered as voters and allowed to take part in the elections to be held in the war-ravaged country in September.

Foreign Minister Khurshid M. Kasuri said at a news conference at the State Guest House on Sunday that he had discussed the matter with Afghan President Hamid Karzai during his recent meeting with him in Berlin. However, he did not say how the Afghan president reacted to the idea.

Mr Kasuri said Pakistan also offered funds to the United Nations required for the registration of the Afghan refugees. There are about 1.9 million registered and another 1.5 million unregistered refugees in Pakistan.

He said Pakistan wanted peace, stability and prosperity in Afghanistan as they would have a positive impact on the investment climate in the country. Just back from the Berlin Conference on Afghanistan, the foreign minister said he had called for expansion of ISAF, disarmament of factional forces, meaningful sectoral reforms and the extension of the state authority to the entire country.

The foreign minister turned down suggestions that the Kashmir dispute could be resolved only by converting the Line of Control into a permanent international border. He said if this was to be the solution, there was no need for Pakistan fighting three wars with India.

Mr Kasuri said the Jan 6 Joint Declaration issued after a landmark meeting between President Musharraf and Prime Minister Vajpayee in Islamabad clearly stated that all outstanding disputes would be settled to the satisfaction of both the countries. He said a lasting peace in the region would not be possible till the Kashmir dispute was resolved to the satisfaction of the Kashmiri people.

CHINA VISIT: The foreign minister is leaving here for a three-day visit to China on Monday (today) at the invitation of his counterpart Li Zhaoxing. During the visit, Mr Kasuri will hold talks on bilateral issues and matters of regional and international significance.

He is also expected to meet a cross section of Chinese leadership representing the government, the party, business and academia. He will also address think tanks and the media."Strengthening of deep and abiding friendship with China continues to remain a key goal of Pakistan's foreign policy", Mr Kasuri said.

He dismissed suggestions that a major non-NATO ally status given to Pakistan by the United States could adversely affect ties between Islamabad and Beijing. He said there was just no question of any misunderstanding between the two countries and thus there was no need for Pakistan to offer any explanation for accepting the status.

He told a questioner that his visit to China should be taken as part of regular contacts between the two countries. China, the foreign minister said, believed that Pakistan did not provide shelter to extremist elements and that Beijing had thanked Islamabad when an extremist leader was killed in an operation.

Pakistan, Mr Kasuri said, was determined not to let anyone use its territory for terrorist activities against any other country. Asked about the impact on relations between Islamabad and New Delhi in case of the change of government as a result of the general elections in India, the foreign minister said state-to-state ties would remain unaffected.

However, he pointed out that Congress leadership had also made it clear that they were not opposed to the peace process between the two countries. When it was pointed out that India had expressed its reservations on Pakistan becoming a major non-NATO ally of the United States, the foreign minister there was no justification for a negative reaction. He said Pakistan had never said a word about the kind of relations between India and the US and New Delhi should also go by a similar approach.

Mr Kasuri said the foreign policy of the present government had been very successful and opposition's allegations that Islamabad stood isolated were unfounded. He said more than a dozen foreign dignitaries had visited Islamabad in a single month and President Musharraf and Prime Minister Jamali's visits to major world capitals had also been highly successful.

During these visits, he said, Pakistan was appreciated for its role in the war against terrorism, reconstruction of Afghanistan and the way Pakistan had addressed the issue of non-proliferation. He said it was because of the foreign policy of the government that the "fallout of AQ Khan's affair has been contained".

He said "there has been no major negative reaction in important world capitals. This reflects growing appreciation for the action that the government of Pakistan has taken in this regard and also a realization that Pakistan has a responsible government.

This has enhanced Pakistan's stature". In such a situation, Mr Kasuri said, it was not fair for anyone to say that Pakistan stood isolated at the international level.

The foreign minister said Pakistan was also trying to become a dialogue partner of the Gulf Cooperation Council in the near future, which would provide an institutional basis for regular consultations between these countries and Pakistan on matters of mutual interest. "The destiny of the GCC countries is linked in some ways to that of ours".

In response to a question, Mr Kasuri said reservations expressed by some elements in the EU about the formation of the National Security Council carried no value. He said he had held very useful talks with EU External Affairs Commissioner Chris Patten. Mr Kasuri praised the Commonwealth secretary-general's positive statement about the democratic system of Pakistan.

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