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Arms Sale to Top Rice's Agenda of Pakistan Visit

Pakistan is likely to raise the issue of a proposed sale of Patriot missile system to India with US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice who will be in Islamabad on Thursday for a two-day visit, said Pakistani officials and political analysts Monday.

Rice, on her first visit to Pakistan since taking office early this year, will hold talks with Pakistani officials on counter-terrorism, non-proliferation, Iran's alleged nuclear program and peace and security in South Asia, the Pak-US defense ties and situation in the Middle East, Iraq and Afghanistan.

"Supply of Patriot missile to India and its (Pakistan's) own defense requirements would be discussed during visit of the US secretary of state," renowned political analyst Professor Hassan Akhtar Askari told Xinhua.

Pakistan's Foreign Office spokesman Jalil Abbas Jillani also said last week that the expected supply of US missile defense system to India and the recent hike of 8 percent in India's defense budget would come up for discussions during Rice's visit.

The Patriot advanced capability-2 anti-ballistic missile system is capable of shooting down any nuclear capable missile and it is a cause of grave concern to Pakistan that considers its nuclear deterrence as key to peace in South Asia.

Pakistan believes that introduction of such a system by India would generate a new round of arms race and would throw the region into a "crisis like mode" by further "exacerbating" the "conventional arms imbalance".

The proposed sale has also disturbed Islamabad particularly as Washington remains unmoved to a long-time request by Pakistan for the sale of F-16 combat aircraft.

"Pakistan will be interested in taking up this issue (with Rice) as on the one hand the United States is denying the country the F-16 and on the other hand it is giving this missile system and possibly the F-16 to India," defense expert and retired Lt. General Talat Masood told Xinhua.

Rice is, however, unlikely to bring any "definite" proposal on Kashmir that lies at the heart of tension between Pakistan and India and has triggered at least two of their three full-scale wars since their simultaneous independence in August, 1947.

"It is not expected that she will bring any specific proposal on Kashmir although the United States and many other countries do want to see the relations between Pakistan and India come to normal," Askari said.

Pakistan has time again expressed its desire for the United States to play a more "pro-active" role in bringing about a resolution of the Kashmir dispute, acceptable to Pakistan, India and the Kashmiri people.

Since January 2004 both Pakistan and India are engaged in a dialogue process to resolve all their outstanding disputes, including Kashmir.

While the two archrivals have exchanged a raft of confidence building measures to boost mutual trust, both remained pools apart on the Kashmir dispute.

Lt. Gen. Masood also believed that in terms of Kashmir, Rice was not expected to bring any proposal as "she would like to use her first visit more as an opportunity to have a direct contact with the Pakistani officials in her new role and continue the momentum set by her predecessor."

Rice replaced Colin L. Powell in January this year. She would also visit India and Afghanistan as part of her Asian tour.

Rice will also discuss the ongoing war on terror with Pakistan, which has so far captured over 700 al-Qaeda suspects since the war began in December 2001.

President Musharraf last week claimed that Pakistani security forces have broken the back of al-Qaeda organization and its members were now fragmented and on the run.

(Xinhua News Agency March 15, 2005)

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