Pakistan chief says outside help is key to end Kashmir rift

Wednesday, February 13, 2002

WASHINGTON -- Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf said Tuesday that India and Pakistan need outside mediation to help them break their dangerous deadlock over the disputed region of Kashmir.

A day before he meets President Bush at the White House, Musharraf outlined an ambitious agenda to turn his country -- which has provided key help in the U.S.-led fight against terrorism -- into a modern, progressive Islamic state rejecting religious extremism.

Debt relief is key, Musharraf said in a speech sponsored by two Washington think tanks, because Pakistan now spends 50 percent of its budget to service its outside debt. Bush is expected to go at least partway toward meeting Musharraf's request for debt relief, administration officials have said.

Most Pakistanis are moderate, not religious extremists, Musharraf told the friendly audience, and they embrace the reforms he has begun to lower the influence of religious extremists and develop the economy.

At the same time, the disputed Himalayan province of Kashmir is an issue for "each one of them," and must be resolved, the president said.

"Bilateralism has failed," Musharraf said of Pakistan's bitter standoff with rival India. Both nuclear-armed countries have their armies on high alert at their joint frontier. "There is a requirement for mediation."

While he did not specifically call on the United States to act as mediator, Pakistan has long sought such a role for America.

India has just as vociferously rejected outside mediation. The United States would act as mediator only if both countries requested it, a senior Bush administration official said Tuesday.

$3 billion debt relief

Musharraf, making his first White House visit on today, wants the $3 billion in debt relief and other economic aid.

Bush, in turn, is looking for continued Pakistani action against Islamic extremists.

Both leaders badly want the freedom of abducted Wall Street Journal reporter Daniel Pearl, whose kidnapping has embarrassed Musharraf as he tries to convince the world that Pakistan is no center of Islamic extremism.

The United States has praised Pakistan's efforts to find Pearl. Officials there announced Tuesday -- before the Musharraf-Bush meeting -- that the chief suspect in the kidnapping had been arrested in Lahore. But the American reporter's whereabouts remain unknown.

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