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Musharraf:  'Pakistan Wants Peace but is Prepared for War' - 2001-12-30

Pakistan's military leader, General Pervez Musharraf, says he wants peace with India, but its forces are prepared to counter aggression. The two nations are massing forces along their border following this month's terrorist attack on India's parliament.

Talking to reporters in the Pakistani capital, General Musharraf said he wants to defuse the tensions and does not want war with India. "Pakistan stands for peace. Pakistan wants to reduce tension," he said. "Let the relationship between Pakistan and India move towards peace and harmony. But having said that, Pakistan has taken all counter measures. If any war is thrust on Pakistan, Pakistan's armed forces and 140 million people of Pakistan are fully prepared to face all consequences with all their might."

The Pakistani leader repeated his offer of holding talks with Indian Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee to settle bilateral differences. India has resisted international pressure for Mr. Vajpayee to hold one-on-one talks with General Musharraf and has cancelled a meeting planned on the sidelines of a regional summit next month in Nepal.

General Musharraf says he is ready to talk: "I have always been saying that I do not mind dialogue," he explained, "but this should be acceptable to the other side. If they accept it we do not reject it at all. I am for dialogue, but if Prime Minister Vajpayee does not want it I am not at all keen about it."

India and Pakistan both have imposed diplomatic and economic sanctions on each other. India is demanding that Islamabad shut down offices of Pakistan-based Islamic militant groups Lashkar-e-Taiba and Jaish-e-Mohammad, which New Delhi blames for the attack on Indian parliament early this month. The two groups are fighting Indian rule in Kashmir. The United States has placed them on its official list of terrorist organizations.

Pakistan has frozen the assets of the two groups and has arrested 50 militants, including the leader of the Jaish-e-Mohammad. India has dismissed the moves as "cosmetic."

President Bush talked by telephone Saturday with the leaders of both nations to urge them to resolve their escalating dispute. He also pressed General Musharraf to do more to "eliminate extremists" in Pakistan.