ISLAMABAD, March 31: US Ambassador to Pakistan Ryan C. Crocker on Thursday said his country wanted to establish long-term, broad-based and multidimensional relations with Pakistan, not as a favour to this country but for mutual benefit. The ambassador, who was talking to a group of senior journalists, said the US would not like to repeat the past mistakes when its relations with Pakistan used to be fixed on a single issue and “we used to walk away as soon as that issue disappeared.”

He said the US private sector was keen on making substantial investment in Pakistan, “and the group of 25 or so US entrepreneurs representing trillions of dollar worth of US businesses, who visited Pakistan recently, found the climate ideal enough to take a closer look at the potential and scope for investment in this country.”

Answering a question, he said the advisories which warned US citizens against visiting Pakistan were not issued to discourage investment but to warn the businessmen against taking unnecessary risks and also to convey to the Pakistan government that it needed to do much more to ‘tighten’ its law and order situation.

He said the introduction of laws concerning intellectual property, anti-money laundering and arbitration would greatly help the US private sector in taking Pakistan-specific investment decisions.

He disagreed with the suggestion that the US had decided to sell F-16s to Pakistan as a reward for having agreed to send some used centrifuges to the International Atomic Energy Agency to help it in its investigations into Iran’s supposed nuclear weapons programme.

“The sale of F-16s had nothing to do with Pakistan’s sending the centrifuges to the IAEA or with any perceived US plans to attack Iran,” he stressed.

He dispelled the impression that F-18s which the US had decided to sell to India were in any way superior to F-16s. “The F-16s are used by the US Air Force and the F-18s by the US Navy. Both are equally efficient in their functions and one is not superior to the other.”

He said President Bush had decided to sell F-16s to Pakistan not as a reward for anything that Islamabad had done for Washington but to enhance its defensive capability and introduce a semblance of military balance in the region.

Implying that the Bush administration would not have requested the Congress for the sale of F-16s to Pakistan if it were not sure about how Congress would respond, the ambassador, however, said that the sale could only take place after the Congress had approved the request.

When told about reports of kickbacks and commissions that had allegedly changed hands during similar military sales in the 1980s when some top defence officials were known to have purchased huge properties and ranches in the US, the ambassador said the US laws were too stringent for anybody to play the game of kickbacks and commissions and those found to be indulging in such games would face the full force of the law.

When asked if the Pentagon was paying $70 million every month directly to Pakistan Army by way of reimbursing the expenditure incurred by it in the Wana operation and other Al Qaeda-related campaigns, he said he knew about the reimbursements but did not know how much was being paid and through what mode, “but our books are there for everyone to see”.

The ambassador said regional peace cannot be achieved without first resolving the Kashmir issue and that no lasting resolution could be achieved without the input from Kashmiris.

In this connection, he appreciated the soon-to-begin bus service between Muzaffarabad and Srinagar, saying “this one is a very significant way of involving the Kashmiris in the process.”

He said the US had no quarrel with the way President Pervez Musharraf was conducting investigations into Dr A.Q. Khan’s clandestine nuclear network, but insisted that there was still a lot to be found out to determine what exactly had happened, how did it happen and who were involved in the network. It would not only be in the interest of the world and the region but also in the interest of Pakistan itself that answers to these questions are found, he added.

The ambassador said he did not see any contradiction in President Musharraf continuing to wear the uniform and his desire to establish lasting, stable, institutional democracy in Pakistan.

Answering a question on the issue of democracy, he referred to President Bush’s second term inaugural address and said the president had made it clear that it was now his administration’s agenda to promote democracy throughout the world, “and this applied to Pakistan as well.”

He said the establishment of lasting and stable democracy in Pakistan was an essential pre-requisite for building strategic relations between Pakistan and the US.

He said the US expected fair and free polls not only in 2007 general elections but also during the forthcoming local bodies elections. He implied that since the entire Pakistani nation as well as the whole world would be watching these elections closely, it would not be possible for anyone to tinker with their outcome.

Mr Crocker was not clear about what one meant by an independent election commission and asked if there ever was one in Pakistan in the past, hinting possibly that the US would have no objections if the next elections were conducted by an election commission totally subservient to the executive.

When asked whether President Musharraf was taking the country on the path of democracy or strengthening dictatorship, he said it was very hard for him to consider the present set-up in Pakistan as a dictatorship.

He said he did not see any similarities between the present Pakistani set-up and the dictatorships that he had seen in other parts of the world. “The media is free here, the judiciary is working, the parliament is functioning,” he added.

When asked if by free and fair elections the US meant that even those who were in exile now would be allowed to contest the next polls, the ambassador said it was up to the people of Pakistan to take decisions on such issues.

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