'Pak-India talks to figure at strategic dialogue with US'

Islamabad: Foreign Minister Shah Mahmood Qureshi on Thursday said the issue of stability and peace between Pakistan and India will be part of the upcoming US-Pakistan strategic dialogue as Islamabad wants Washington to address its security-related concerns in the region.

Qureshi said the situation on Pakistan’s eastern border with India has a "linkage" with the war on terror being waged along the western frontier with Afghanistan, and the US should help Pakistan achieve a "comfort level" that will allow it to focus on combating extremism and militancy.

"When we talk of strategic stability in the region, we cannot just focus on the western border. There is an eastern border and you cannot totally overlook the situation on the eastern border because there is a linkage," Qureshi told a news briefing at the Foreign Office ahead of his trip to the US on March 24 for the strategic dialogue.

"For the first time, you have seen Pakistan deploy 142,000 (troops) on the western border. That is a significant shift and we have done it because a requirement was there. That does not mean we are oblivious of the eastern border," he said.

"That does not mean we have attained the comfort level we should have got to concentrate on the western border. I think those issues need to be talked about," Qureshi added.

The US and the world community understand that India-Pakistan relations are intrinsically linked to regional harmony, peace and stability, he remarked.

"The lead role has to be done bilaterally but then there again, Pakistan has been forthcoming, Pakistan is ready to engage, Pakistan is not reluctant or hesitant.

The international community has a responsibility and they should play a responsible role," Qureshi said, contending India was not responding to efforts to normalise ties.

Pakistan also cannot be "oblivious to significant increases in India’s defence budget" and New Delhi’s military strategies like the "cold start doctrine", he said.

"It has been Pakistan’s clear policy that we don’t want to be part of any arms race. We have confidence in our security and ability to defend ourselves but we cannot be oblivious when India talks of the cold start doctrine," he said.

At the same time, Qureshi remarked that Pakistan should not "become obsessed with India" or "India-centric" while forging ties with the US.

Asked why India and Pakistan had not been able to normalise ties despite the recent Foreign Secretary-level talks, Qureshi contended that this was due to domestic political differences within India.

"At this time, I do not see clarity within India. Our Foreign Secretary went there for talks on February 25 and the feedback that he gave me shows clearly that there are internal differences on whether to engage Pakistan or not," he said.

"One section is saying we should engage as this is untenable and how long can we remain disengaged. Another section is saying they should not engage till there is some outcome in (the Pakistani probe into the Mumbai attacks)," he added.

Qureshi claimed India is "still living in the old cold war mindset when the interests and views of world are changing.

Pakistan wants meaningful and result-oriented talks and will not engage in "talks for the sake of talks", he said.

Referring to the Pakistan-US strategic dialogue to be held in Washington on March 24, Qureshi said Pakistan will push for a deeper and more meaningful long-term engagement covering ten areas, defence, counter-terrorism, strategic stability and non-proliferation, economy, energy, education, science and technology, agriculture, health and communications and public diplomacy.

Underlining the need to rebuild trust with the Obama administration, Qureshi said the issue will be a crucial part of the talks in Washington.

"My message to the US is that the time has come to walk the talk," he said.

"I believe our forthcoming dialogue will provide a good opportunity to re-build confidence and trust on both sides," the minister said.

Pakistan will also suggest that there should be an annual dialogue between the Foreign Minister and US Secretary of State and biannual talks between the Foreign Secretary and the US Special Representative for Pakistan and Afghanistan.

The top Pakistani leadership, including President Asif Ali Zardari, Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani and army chief Gen Ashfaq Parvez Kayani, have held wide-ranging consultations to prepare for the key dialogue with the US.