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Indo-US N-deal is a worry: Pak minister
Rajeev Sharma
Tribune News Service

New Delhi, February 12
Eight days before Pakistani Foreign Minister Khurshid Mehmood Kasuri arrives here for formal talks on the India-Pakistan Joint Commission, Islamabad today publicly voiced concerns about the India-US nuclear deal and bracketed Kashmir issue with Palestine and Iraq problems.

The fact that the visiting Pakistan’s Minister of State for Information and Broadcasting Tariq Azim made hard-hitting foreign policy related points at a public function here was not lost on New Delhi. Senator Azim’s remarks show the road ahead for India-Pakistan peace process is not strewn with rose petals despite a series of confidence building measures from both sides enlivening bilateral relations.

In his address at Rotary South Asia Goodwill Summit 2007 here, Mr Azim said “selective availability” of civilian nuclear technology (read India-US nuclear deal) would enable the increase in quantities of fissile material for nuclear warheads in the region. “In such a situation, we would need to take measures to ensure the capability and credibility of our deterrence,” the minister said without elaborating.

That the junior minister had come well prepared and well briefed was evident by the fact that he touched upon every single issue of interest in Indo-Pak bilateral relations - terrorism, trade, CBMs, defence and security, nuclear issues, strategic restraint, prisoners, visas, shrines, and last but not the least, Kashmir. Mr Azim also made specific and positive references to BJP stalwarts - Atal Bihari Vajpayee and L K Advani.

Another important highlight of the minister’s public speech was his attempt to bracket Kashmir issue with Palestine and Iraq issues. Sample his quotable quote on this: “The elimination of terrorism requires addressing its root causes. Today, terrorism is an internal threat, which is bigger than external threat of war. It is essential to resolve international issues such as the Palestinian problem, the war in Iraq and as mentioned earlier, the Kashmir dispute. These lingering conflicts promote a sense of injustice, anger, frustration and deprivation, which produce the willing recruits for the perpetrators of terror.”

Mr Azim said Islamabad had already offered a Strategic Restraint Regime to India to prevent an arms race in strategic and conventional weapons. “We remain concerned, however, about the induction of new weapon systems into the region such as anti-ballistic missiles.”

He talked about how India- Pakistan relations were now directly affected by the nuclear factor and how war was no longer an option. “This provides opportunity for leaders on both sides to discuss issues in a more relaxed manner. We should refrain from a tendency to over-react and leaders on both sides should have the capacity to absorb shocks, so that process of dialogue continues for a better environment.”

On the Kashmir issue, the minister reiterated Gen Pervez Musharraf’s out-of-box solutions. “The time has now come to move from dispute management to dispute resolution. The Kashmir dispute remains at the heart of Pakistan-India relations. For a lasting solution, a resolution of this dispute must be based on the wishes and aspirations of the Kashmiri people. The solution must also be acceptable to Pakistan and India.”

Mr Azim said his country was committed to all CBMs and would not reverse any of them unilaterally. “It is important, however, that we move beyond conflict management to conflict resolution now. Solution of the Kashmir issue holds the master key to the resolution of all other disputes,” he said.

On the issue of prisoners languishing in jails on both sides, Mr Azim took a harder line. “Bulk of Pakistani prisoners were arrested on petty charges, for example, overstaying their visas but were awarded heavy punishments and subjected to torture in jails. In September 2005, India released 97 prisoners, 53 of them had lost their mental balance. Similarly in December 2006, 22 prisoners were released by India, out of which nine had become mentally derailed. We have proposed a committee of senior retired judges to visit jails in our respective countries to help resolve this humanitarian issue.”

He also stated that Pakistan-India trade, which stood at mere $ 161 million five years ago, now had a potential to reach $ 10 billion by 2010. He pointed out that as a result of the normalisation process, the Pakistan High Commission here issued more than 100,000 visas last year. 

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