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Pak for free trade with India

By K J M Varma in Islamabad
December 27, 2003 19:11 IST
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Pakistan would pursue free trade with India through the SAARC process without compromising on its stance on Kashmir, Pakistan's Foreign Secretary Riaz Khokhar said on Saturday.

"You must make a distinction between free trade in the regional context and free trade in the bilateral context. In principle, we stand for free trade," he told a press conference in Islamabad when asked whether Pakistan was ready to abandon its previous policy of linking trade with India to proceed further towards a resolution of Kashmir issue.

"Until we come to a final agreement, I cannot say how SAFTA (the South Asian Free Trade Area) will be implemented," Khokhar said.

Regarding Pakistan's policy on Kashmir, he said: "It has been clearly enunciated by President (Pervez Musharraf) and Prime Minister (Zafarullah Khan Jamali). We do not see any change in our position on Kashmir."

Asked whether Pakistan has decided not to raise the Kashmir issue during the forthcoming SAARC summit, Khokhar told the questioner he could recall when Islamabad raised the Kashmir issue at previous SAARC summits.

To a question whether Kashmir would figure in Jamali's speech at the summit, he said: "The speech is still being drafted. Let's see whether we can accommodate your request."

Speaking about the arrangements for the three-day SAARC summit in Islamabad from January 4, Khokhar said: "All the distinguished heads of state and government, including His Excellency (Prime Minister Atal Bihari) Vajpayee, will receive a warm welcome. Pakistanis are by tradition a very hospitable people."

Khokhar also said that India has not yet indicated its willingness for any bilateral meetings between Vajpayee and Musharraf, and Vajpayee and Jamali.

There was no request from India so far for any bilateral meetings with Pakistani leaders, he said, adding that heads of all other SAARC countries, including Bangladesh Prime Minister Begum Khaleda Zia and Sri Lankan President Chandrika Kumaratunga, have made requests for meetings with Musharraf and Jamali.

But, he said, Vajpayee would be joining the other leaders at the banquet being hosted by Musharraf for the SAARC leaders on January 4.  The banquet would be preceded by a joint call on Musharraf by SAARC leaders, he said.

Khokhar also said that one of the focus of the summit would be to finalise a protocol on suppressing terrorism.

Asked whether the protocol would also include cooperation to contain cross-border terrorism from Pakistan as charged by India, Khokhar said: "There is an agreement already. A protocol is under discussion."

"We do not know what the India will refer to when it comes up for discussion. We have our own position. Once the protocol comes under discussion we will let you know."

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K J M Varma in Islamabad
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