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Pakistan Welcomes Chance for High-level Talks with India - 2001-12-31

Pakistan says it will welcome top-level talks with India on the sidelines of a regional summit this weekend in Nepal. The statement comes after India indicated such a meeting could take place.

Pakistan Foreign Ministry spokesman Aziz Ahmad Khan told reporters his country has always maintained that it is open for talks to settle bilateral differences. "We are ready," he said. "We have always welcomed negotiations and talks. If there is a move from the Indian side, we certainly will welcome it."

Peace gestures from India and Pakistan followed Islamabad's announcement it has arrested a founder of the Pakistan-based militant group, Lashkar-e-Taiba, which is fighting Indian rule in Kashmir. India accuses Lashkar and another Pakistan-based militant group - Jaish-e-Mohammed - of organizing this month's terrorist attack on the Indian parliament building. It has been demanding that Pakistan shut down offices of the groups and arrest their leaders.

Pakistan authorities have frozen assets of the two organizations and have arrested dozens of their members, including the top leader of Jaish-e-Mohammed. The United States has added the two groups to its official list of terrorist organizations.

But Pakistan's spokesman Aziz Khan says its crackdown is not linked to outside pressure. "Our action is with regards to Pakistan government's decision to maintain public order, not to allow inflammatory speeches, not to allow display of weapons, to eliminate illegal weapons and things related to that," he said. "This arrest is part of the same measures that the government of Pakistan has been taking for quite some time."

Under pressure from the United States, Pakistan has recently stepped up a crackdown on militant groups fighting Indian rule in Kashmir. On Friday, the country's military leader, General Pervez Musharraf, said he wants to eradicate militancy, extremism and intolerance from Pakistani society.