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Mending fences with India a priority: Pak

Pakistan Foreign Minister Qureshi said Islamabad's priority is to remove "a trust deficit" between the two neighbours, conceding though that there are no quick fixes for it.
By Arun Kumar | IANS, Washington
UPDATED ON JUL 12, 2008 11:20 AM IST

Trying to remove "a trust deficit" between India and Pakistan, including on the Kashmir issue, is one of Islamabad's priorities, says Pakistan Foreign Minister Shah Mahmood Qureshi, but concedes there are no quick fixes for it.

The new civilian-led Pakistan government, however, is committed to continuing the process of a composite dialogue with New Delhi, he said here Friday after an hour-long meeting with US Secretary of State Condoleeza Rice.

Qureshi, making his first visit to US two weeks ahead of Prime Minister Yousaf Raza Gilani, also called for immediate steps "to take the two countries out of the cycle of hostility, acrimony and mutual suspicion."

He also rejected suggestions that Pakistan was involved in Monday's deadly suicide bombing outside the Indian Embassy in Kabul that killed at least 54 persons, including four Indians.

Afghan officials have put the blame for the bombing on a regional intelligence agency, widely seen as a reference to Pakistan.

Officials said Rice and Qureshi covered security issues and Afghanistan, Pakistan-India relations, and the effect of soaring energy and food prices on Pakistan during their meeting.

Deflected criticism that Pakistan was not doing enough to combat militants operating in lawless tribal areas bordering Afghanistan, Qureshi said:

"Pakistan is doing whatever is possible,"

And "it will do so in our own interest, we want a stable environment in that region, we want a peaceful and stable Afghanistan," he said. But Qureshi said only Pakistani troops would act against terrorists on its soil.

"Our concerns are known to them (US). We believe that action in Pakistan will be taken by Pakistani troops, we cannot permit any foreign troops in Pakistan. They are very aware of the people's sentiments," he said.

In separate talks with White House National Security Advisor Stephen Hadley, Qureshi expressed Islamabad's "determination to fight terrorism, which continues to be a threat to Pakistan," the Pakistan embassy in Washington stated.

He told Hadley that Islamabad "will not negotiate with the terrorists, but will work with our people to limit the influence of extremists in the society," the statement said.

Later speaking at the Brookings Institution, a Washington think tank, the minister said: "Pakistan will not permit its territory to be used by anyone against any country." The Gilani administration "has now the legitimate mandate to confront the forces of terrorism wherever they rear their ugly heads," Qureshi said.

The assurance came amid warnings from Washington that Al Qaeda is rebuilding itself in Pakistan's tribal areas for a possible terrorist attack on US soil while Kabul has accused Pakistan of backing Taliban insurgents.

US intelligence officials say there has been an increase in foreign fighters travelling to Pakistan to join up with Al Qaeda-linked militants in the country's tribal areas, the New York Times reported Thursday.

He said it was "baffling" to hear people insinuating that Pakistan was responsible for violence in Afghanistan.

"What we are telling our friends in Afghanistan is the disturbances that they are seeing, the increase in violence they are seeing in Afghanistan is not of Pakistan's creation," Qureshi said. "A lot of your problems are internal in nature."

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