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Wednesday, June 28, 2006

Pakistan: More troops to be deployed on Afghan border

Islamabad, 28 June (AKI/DAWN) - The government of Pakistan has decided to deploy 10,000 more troops along the Afghan border which will take the total number of troops there to 90,000. This was announced by Pakistan's foreign minister Khurshid Kasuri at a joint press conference with US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, who had travelled to Pakistan for consultations on bilateral and security issues.

The press conference was held after Rice had 90-minute delegation-level talks with Pakistani president Gen Pervez Musharraf which focused on the war against terrorism.

In her remarks Rice said the US considered Pakistan a "good friend and a strategic partner."

She said her discussions with the president revolved around Pakistan-US counter-terrorism cooperation and bilateral relations. She said the objective of her visit was also to review progress, the two countries had made on the bilateral front since the visit by US president George W. Bush to Pakistan in March.

She said: "I came here because Pakistan is a good friend and an important strategic partner and this is the message that I bring from President Bush."

She expressed the US support for the path of 'enlightened moderation' that it had adopted and underlined that further democratisation of the country would help in that direction.

In response to a question on whether the US supported Pakistan's new strategy of pursuing a political dialogue to fight terrorism in the tribal areas she said: "It is important to trust your partner and support your partner." She said that Washington was committed to assist Islamabad in its efforts towards the development, not just in the frontier but in Pakistan as a whole.

She held out assurance that her government was committed to help Pakistan meet its growing energy needs through clean, reliable and safe means of energy.

Kasuri was visibly agitated when a journalist accompanying the US secretary drew his attention to Afghanistan's claim that Pakistan was not doing enough in the war on terrorism. He said while Pakistan sympathised with Afghanistan it was compelled to respond when allegations were levelled against it.

Reiterating all the steps Pakistan had taken so far, he underlined that it had no motive in destabilising Afghanistan.

On the contrary Pakistan had the greatest stakes in Afghanistan's peace and stability, he added.

He underscored that Pakistan wanted gas and oil pipelines coming from Central Asia via Afghanistan and also wanted trade with Central Asia.

The foreign minister said it was a difficult situation to tackle and while Pakistan was doing its best, it was also the responsibility of the Afghan government.

He said the Afghan government should share intelligence with Pakistan if it had any specific information about Taliban leaders hiding inside Pakistan or share it with the CIA.

The US secretary of state intervened at this point to say that Afghanistan and Pakistan were both 'friends of the US' and both were suffering due to terrorism and extremism as the US had.

Acknowledging Pakistan's commitment, she said the US was supporting all efforts in Afghanistan and Pakistan to fight terror.

Responding to a question, she said the US government had the assurance of the president, prime minister and the foreign minister that the next general elections in Pakistan would be free and fair.

In this context she referred to President Musharraf's commitment to President Bush during his visit to Pakistan.

She said the US was clear that the process of democratisation was not just having elections but also giving access to media.

In his opening statement, Kasuri said Rice was a 'good friend' of Pakistan and had played a positive role in promoting bilateral relations.

He said Pakistan was satisfied with the progress made in the relations since Bush's visit. He said Rice was also briefed about the Pakistan-India dialogue process, and added that Pakistan was committed to resolving all outstanding issues with India, including the dispute over Kashmir.

"We believe now is the time to move decisively towards dispute resolution," Kasuri said.

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