ISLAMABAD, Feb 23: Pakistan on Wednesday expressed concern over reports of Indian bid to purchase the Patriot anti-missile system from the US and warned the move would trigger an arms race in the region and threaten the ongoing peace process.

Speaking at his weekly press briefing here, Foreign Office spokesman Masood Khan said any plans to sell Patriots to India would be counter-productive. "This would erode deterrence...this would send the entire region into a crisis mode."

"You will have an arms race, an unintended arms race here which nobody wants and finally it would induce higher risk-taking. This we think is not in sync with goals of peace and security that we have in this region."

Mr Khan said Islamabad had conveyed its concern to Washington over New Delhi's interest in the anti-ballistic missile system and added that Pakistan had been talking to the Americans about it at all levels and on all occasions.

According to reports in foreign media, a US Defence Security Cooperation Agency team briefed Indian defence and foreign ministry officials on the Patriot system earlier this week.

The spokesman also questioned New Delhi's motives for purchasing the missile system, saying: "India has been pursuing rapprochement with China and a composite dialogue with Pakistan."

"So where is the threat and what is the threat perception down the road?" He said Pakistan had also shared its concern about induction of new weapons systems with India at the expert-level talks on nuclear and conventional CBMs in December 2004.

BUS ACCORD: The spokesman termed the agreement on starting the Srinagar-Muzaffarabad bus service a victory for all sides and underlined the need to resolve the Kashmir dispute in the same constructive spirit.

Mr Khan said: "It is a good step in the right direction but the overall question of the Jammu and Kashmir dispute has to be resolved, and for that we need the same sort of constructive spirit, engagement and understanding that permeated our talks and consultations on starting the bus service.

He saw the agreement on the Srinagar-Muzaffarabad bus service as a victory for all sides - Pakistan, India and the Kashmiris. Describing it as an important humanitarian CBM, he said both Pakistan and India had demonstrated flexibility and a tribute should be paid to all parties to make this measure successful.

This measure was put in place in response to the long-standing demands of the Kashmiris themselves and it would help unite divided families, Mr Khan said, adding: "Technical details are being worked out and Insha Allah we shall have a bus service starting from April 7."

TRAVEL MODALITIES: When asked what documents would be used by Indian and Pakistani nationals for travelling on the bus, he said: "I don't have any read-out, in fact this is evolving."

The spokesman said the local authorities were trying to evolve the kind of documents that would be required. He did not answer clearly when asked whether a quota system would be devised to specify the percentage of Kashmiris, Pakistanis and Indians who would travel on the bus. "This is being worked out as are all other modalities," was his short reply.

Responding to a question regarding apprehensions of Kashmiris that the Indian authorities may make the procedures for clearance of travel permits lengthy and tedious, the spokesman replied: "We should not make this process and all the procedures involved cumbersome and time-consuming because these should be Kashmiri-friendly measures. The scrutiny should not be too intrusive which could discourage people from applying."

On the de-mining of the Kashmir bus route, he said preparations for it were under way with necessary coordination and it would be done in due course. Expressing solidarity with the Kashmiris' quest for freedom, Mr Khan said Pakistan's moral, diplomatic and political support to it would continue.

In reply to a question, he said the peace process with India was being pursued at different levels and through various formal and informal channels. He stressed that the underlying objective of the entire exercise, including greater interaction between leaders and members of the civil society, was to resolve the issue of Jammu and Kashmir.

The spokesman said that this point had also been conveyed by President Pervez Musharraf to Indian External Affairs Minister Natwar Singh when the latter called on him on Feb 16. He made it clear that there was no shift in Pakistan's foreign policy on the Kashmir issue. "We are focused on the question of Jammu and Kashmir," he asserted.

PUNJAB DIPLOMACY: When asked whether the Punjab government had the clearance from Islamabad and the foreign ministry on going ahead with the accelerated pace of normalization with the Indian Punjab, the spokesman said: "Everything is done with the consent of the centre."

TIES WITH US: In reply to another question, Mr Khan said the US-Pakistan relations were strong, robust and resilient with strategic, political and economic underpinning. He termed bilateral relations multi-dimensional, one which would go beyond the war on terrorism.

Referring to the achievements made in the economic sphere since 9/11, the spokesman said at present trade between the two countries stood at $4.2 billion. Pakistan's exports to the US were worth about $3 billion, the US was the largest investor in Pakistan ($1.3 billion) and its share in FDI (foreign direct investment) was about 38 per cent.

However, he said that there were still some residual problems such as market access and preferential treatment to Pakistani exports, and added that a full response was awaited from the US on these issues.

In reply to a question regarding a US Congressional research report about creating linkages for potential sale of military hardware to Pakistan, the spokesman said the media representatives should selectively reproduce these reports as these often indulged in facile generalizations.

Downplaying a proposed US legislation that could go against Pakistan's interest, he said: "There are many pieces of (US) legislation which are floating but we are concerned with the ones which materialize."

Mr Khan maintained that as far as Pakistan was concerned it had demonstrated exemplary behaviour in curbing the incursions of the international black-market, his reference being to the nuclear proliferation issue.

VIOLATION OF AIR SPACE: When asked whether any new orders had been issued to the Pakistan Army to fire at the US forces intruding into the Pakistani territory along the border with Afghanistan, he said there was no need for the army to get any new orders because the standard operating procedures (SOPs) already existed. Under the SOPs, he explained, firing at intruding troops was the last option after it had been checked and established that an incursion had taken place.

AD CAMPAIGN: Mr Khan was evasive when asked if since the launch of the war on terrorism Pakistan had shared any specific information with the US authorities regarding the whereabouts of Osama bin Laden or any other high-value target. "We have intelligence cooperation with the US and other members of the coalition," was his response.

He was also evasive to questions about whether Washington had obtained clearance from the Pakistan government for publishing and broadcasting reward advertisements for information on Al Qaeda operatives in the print and electronic media. "I do not have specific information on that," he said.

However, in response to a related question, Mr Khan emphatically said that Pakistan was not fighting a war for the US or the Americans. "We are fighting a war in our own national interest. It is an internationally sanctioned war to flush out terrorists who have harmed Pakistan's vital interest."

In response to a query, Mr Khan said he had no information about the reported $57 million reward money to Pakistan for providing leads on important Al Qaeda operatives.

On reported violation of Pakistan air space by US spy planes last week, the spokesman said: "Whenever it comes to our notice we issue a demarche to the US military authorities and also raise the matter with the US government."

At the outset, the spokesman read out three statements regarding the visit of President of Eritrea Mr Isaias Afwerki to Pakistan from Feb 24-26; Foreign Minister Khurshid Kasuri's visit to Japan and the first meeting of the Indo-Pakistan Study Group on Trade and Economic Cooperation that concluded in Delhi on Wednesday.

UN REFORM: The spokesman described as incorrect a news report suggesting that Mr Kasuri had supported Japan's bid for a permanent seat at the UN Security Council. He said the foreign minister, during talks with his Japanese interlocutors, had expressed the hope that Japan as an important state would help the international community achieve the objective of a comprehensive and balanced UN reform.

Pakistan's stance on UN Security Council reforms remained unchanged, Mr Khan added. Reiterating Pakistan's position, he said: "We believe the Security Council must be made more representative, democratic, and accountable.

The council's reform should be comprehensive in all its aspects, covering size, composition, working methods, decision-making and accountability. "We also maintain that the council should not create new centres of privilege, with or without veto," the spokesman emphasized.



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