Friday, Jul 04, 2003
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India & World
By Vaiju Naravane
Speaking to a restricted group of journalists at a breakfast meeting here Gen. Musharraf implicitly blamed India for the slow progress saying: ``We are prepared to start negotiations as of tomorrow, but we cannot clap with one hand''. It was New Delhi, that had ``deliberately chosen'' the slow course.
Paris is the last halt on a four-nation tour that has taken Gen. Musharraf to Britain, the United States, Germany and now France.
Following talks with the French President, Jacques Chirac, on Tuesday, Gen. Musharraf said he had discussed the Kashmir situation and Indo-Pakistan relations with Mr. Chirac and had asked the French leader to convey his point of view to India's National Security Adviser, Brajesh Mishra, who is due in Paris next week.
Today, Gen. Musharraf told French investors that reports on terrorism were gross exaggerations and that Pakistan offered a safe and attractive investment climate. Speaking at a seminar organised by the French business association, the MEDEF, he said that Pakistan offered ``tremendous opportunities for a win-win situation''.
The seminar was restricted to business leaders and select journalists. This correspondent's request for accreditation was rejected by both the MEDEF and the Pakistan Embassy here.
French investor confidence in Pakistan is low, with the media here repeatedly painting it as one of the countries ``most affected by terrorism and religious extremism.'' A recent book by the respected French philosopher and commentator Bernard Henri-Levy on the brutal murder in Karachi last year of Daniel Pearl, the Wall Street Journal`s South Asia bureau chief, pointed an accusing finger at Pakistan describing it as the ``epicentre of international terrorism.'' Investor confidence had also been shaken by a bomb blast in Karachi in May 2002 that killed 11 French engineers working on the assemblage of the French-built Agosta submarines that Pakistan has added to its arsenal.
Although three men from the Harkatul Mujahadeen terrorist group have been sentenced to death for the bombing, both the French government as well as victims' families are keeping up the pressure on Gen. Musharraf saying the real culprits who ordered the attack remain free.
Gen. Musharraf did his best to dispel his country's negative image saying: ``We are fighting terrorism in all its dimensions and we are addressing religious extremism. There are no bombs exploding everywhere... Don't be distracted by the perception that you see on television,'' he told the seminar. As if to drive home the point, he said Pakistan did have an extremely vocal fringe of religious extremists. But they were in a minority. Had there been any real danger, he would not have dared leave the country for such a long trip abroad, he said.
The General also defended his own performance saying that ``actually, democracy has never been so strong in Pakistan.'' He was confident that Pakistan, suspended from the Commonwealth in 1999 after the General seized power in a military coup, would be readmitted this winter. ``I am very hopeful especially after my discussions with Tony Blair,'' the General said.
On Wednesday, Gen. Musharraf met Mr. Chirac and dined with the French Foreign Minister, Dominique de Villepin. After his talks with Mr. Chirac the General declared that Pakistan was willing to send troops to Iraq. ``In principle, we agree to send forces. But there are certain modalities, certain contentious issues which need to be looked into before we take this decision.''
Gen. Musharraf met French MPs and senators and held talks with the French Prime Minister, Jean Pierre Raffarin. He flies back to Pakistan after a press conference tomorrow.
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