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New Pakistan Government Vows Continued Cooperation with US War on Terror

Pakistan's newly elected government says there will no change in the policy of supporting U.S. led anti-terrorism efforts in the region. In an interview with VOA, the new Pakistani foreign minister says his government also wants to normalize relations with rival India and settle the long-running dispute over Kashmir peacefully.

Foreign Minister Khurshid Mehmud Kasuri says Pakistan has become a frontline state in the war on terrorism. He says it will continue to play what he calls a "vital role" until the threat of terrorism is eradicated from Afghanistan.

President Pervez Musharraf, who took power in a 1999 coup, last year allied Pakistan with the United States in the fight on terrorism. In November, Mr. Musharraf handed over power to a new elected government led by Prime Minister Zarafullah Jamali.

Foreign Minister Kasuri, a lawyer by training, recently told VOA the new government will continue the new policy. "I think that the policy adopted by President Musharraf after [the attacks on the United States on September 11, 2001,] was correct. It was in the national interest of Pakistan and we intend to follow that policy."

The government has detained more than 400 suspected al-Qaida and Taleban fugitives who fled into Pakistan in the past year. Mr. Kasuri says Pakistan has effectively sealed its borders to prevent terrorists from traveling through the country.

"Now it goes without saying that no arrangement can be foolproof," said Foreign Minister Kasuri. "After all there are American troops on the other side, so if there are some elements who manage to get into Pakistan, we have to assume they have got into Pakistan after first evading American troops. So I am not denying that there is no possibility of people having sneaked through but the numbers have to be very limited."

While the new Jamali government plans to continue close ties with the United States, it also says it wants to improve the stormy relationship with India. Foreign Minister Kasuri, however, says it is India that has avoided talks to settle bilateral issues, including the dispute over Kashmir.

The two countries have twice gone to war over the Kashmir region. India accuses Pakistan of sending militants across the so-called Line of Control dividing the Indian and Pakistani-held parts of Kashmir to help a separatist rebellion. Last week Pakistan postponed a regional meeting of South Asian leaders scheduled for January because India refused to confirm it would participate.

Mr. Kasuri says the meeting of the South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation, or SAARC, could have been an opportunity for India and Pakistan to re-establish diplomatic contacts.

"I had thought that SAARC would provide a great opportunity because I know that although SAARC has its own agenda, nevertheless on the sidelines we would have had an opportunity to talk about issues of mutual concerns," he said. "So I think it is an opportunity that India has missed and we are sorry that it's missed because not only India, we have also lost in this process."

Mr. Kasuri rejects Indian allegations that Pakistan is sending Islamic militants into Indian-controlled Kashmir. He reiterates Islamabad's stance that international observers should be deployed on the Line of Control to verify that Pakistan is not sending militants.

"India is not prepared to accept that there is any indigenous content to the actions in Kashmir and tries and tells the international community that Pakistan is behind those actions," said Mr. Kasuri. "It is unfair to hold Pakistan responsible for that. This will really not solve the problem. We have a genuine desire to solve the problem and we are prepared for a composite dialogue. We want to improve our relations with India across a broad spectrum. But we can't do it alone."

Although Pakistan has grown closer to the United States in the past year, it has concerns about Washington's pressure on Iraq to shed its programs to build weapons of mass destruction.

The Pakistani foreign minister says any action that is taken in Iraq should be within the scope of the United Nations. "The territorial integrity and independence of Iraq should be maintained," he stressed. "Nothing should be done to create a situation which has ramifications not just in Iraq but in fact beyond Iraq because if settled borders are unraveled it can have consequences. We feel and we hope that Iraq will comply with U.N. resolutions and if it does we feel the people of Iraq need to be treated in a more humane way by the lifting of sanctions."

Mr. Kasuri is the son of a former Pakistan law minister of Pakistan. He has been a member of different political parties during his career, but now is a senior member of the ruling Pakistan Muslim League (Q) party.