Kashmir issue ripe for solution, says Bush: Gilani assured of help to fight poverty

18 May 2008
The Dawn

Sharm eL-Sheikh: US President George Bush said here on Sunday that “Kashmir issue is ripe for solution” and he saw major and significant developments in Pakistan-India relations. The president said he was happy to note that the two sides had made a lot of progress in their talks on Kashmir and for comprehensive peace in the region. He made the remarks during an hour-long meeting with Prime Minister Syed Yousuf Raza Gilani. Besides Pakistan-India relations and bilateral matters, they also discussed the situation in Afghanistan with special reference to war against terrorism and extremism. Briefing newsmen after the talks, Prime Minister’s Special Assistant on Finance Hina Rabbani Khar and additional Foreign Secretary Zameer Akram said the US president had appreciated the dialogue process between India and Pakistan and said he had no doubts in his mind that Kashmir was ‘ripe for solution’. Governor State Bank Dr Shamshad Akhtar and member of the newly constituted economic advisory council Shahnaz Wazir Ali were present during the briefing. Ms Khar said that the US president had assured to offer another economic package to Pakistan to help fight poverty which was rising due to unprecedented rise in food prices. President Bush, she said, was of the view that the second economic package would hopefully be offered by his successor. Ms Khar said that President Bush was aware of Pakistan’s increasing difficulties in meeting Afghanistan’s wheat and flour requirements. “Pakistan is paying a price in war against terror and needs to be supported adequately,” Ms Khar quoted the US President as saying. Answering a question, Mr Zameer Akram said that the president and the prime minister exchanged views on strategic relations covering all aspects, including economic and defence matters. He said the US president had assured that the strategic approach would take forward the process of building a comprehensive relationship between the two countries. Pakistan, Mr Akram said, had also been assured of greater market access to help improve its economy. Ms Khar said that the US had offered the first economic package in Camp David and a similar package covering health and education and women development would be provided. She said the US president was concerned about the rising food inflation in developing countries, including Pakistan, and pledged all possible support. US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice particularly assured help to fight poverty among women in Pakistan. In reply to a question, Ms Khar said that the issue of judges was not discussed at the meeting because the United States considered it an internal matter of Pakistan. Prime Minister Gilani told the US President that Pakistan was committed to fighting terrorism and extremism and would continue to cooperate with the international community in efforts to eradicate the menace that was causing problems the world over.Mr Bush said “I fully understand that Pakistan is dealing with serious issues and deserve all support from US and the western countries. The prime minister informed the president that there was a change in the system and for the first time in the history of Pakistan, he had been unanimously elected as prime minister. He said his government would work with the US administration to further improve bilateral relations.According to Ms Khar, the prime minister told President Bush that Pakistan wanted to be a source of peace and stability in the region. Reuters adds President Bush said he and Prime Minister Gilani spoke about a “common desire to protect ourselves and others from those who would do harm” and he thanked the prime minister for his steadfast support. Suspicions that a US drone fired missiles on a house in Damadola was condemned by Mr Gilani last week. Asked whether the missile strike had been discussed, Mr Gilani said “yes,” while Mr Bush did not comment.Mr Gilani, standing next to Mr Bush outside his hotel villa, said terrorism and extremism were “the biggest threat to the world”. “I have lost my own great leader Benazir Bhutto because of terrorism,” he said. “I appreciate the fact that you’re committed to working to make sure that relations between the United States and Pakistan are strong and vibrant and productive,” Mr Bush said. “Relations are good between our two countries and they will continue to be good,” he said.