Zardari raises Kashmir issue

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New York, Sep 24 (UNI) Pakistan President Asif Ali Zardari today raised the Kashmir issue describing it as the ''core issue'' and said Islamabad would continue to provide moral support to Kashmiris.

The Pakistan President, who is meeting Prime Minister Manmohan Singh later today on the sidelines of the UN General Assembly, said at a press conference that he would take up with the Prime Minister, strengthening of people-to-people contact between the two countries.

''Kashmir remains the core issue between India and Pakistan...

Pakistan will continue providing moral support to Kashmiri people,'' he said.

The scheduled meeting between Dr Singh and Mr Zardari has raised expectations of a momentum to the India-Pakistan Peace Process which has had several hiccups during the past two years following increased terrorist incidence in India and cross-border violations.

The two leaders are meeting here later this evening at 1600 hrs local time (late night IST) on the sidelines of the UN General Assembly.

Officials accompanying the Prime Minister on the visit said they had high expectations from the meeting as it would give a major boost to the Composite Dialogue Process (CDP).

Dr Singh refused to disclose the details of the meeting, saying it would not be proper to comment before the meeting with Mr Zardari.

He, however, said both the countries faced common challenges, including terrorism, and would tell the Pakistan President that challenges could be converted into opportunities.

Officials said the two leaders would discuss the ''entire gamut'' of bilateral relations, including cross-border terrorism.

Officials also said India was in a dilemma on how to deal with the situation arising out of the developments in Pakistan in view of multiple power centres in that country.

They said India would have to remain engaged with Mr Zardari since he is President.

''There is the ISI which was responsible for attack on the Indian embassy in Kabul. Then there is the Army which can be blamed for infiltration. There are also politicians but with some politicians we don't want to deal, while some politicians don't want to deal with us,'' the officials said.

That effectively left Mr Zardari as the only option, the officials added.

They said Mr Zardari had in the past shown considerable interest in developing closer relations with India.

He too has a stake in having closer relations with India since he has to establish himself in his country, the officials added.

''It is in his interest also to shake hands with the Prime Minister,'' the officials said.

Sources said the Prime Minister will also seek information from Mr Zardari about any progress in the investigation of the ISI involvement in the Kabul blast, although officials did not confirm.

At the 15th SAARC Summit in Colombo, Pakistan had offered to launch an investigation into the Kabul blast.

The offer was made by Pakistan Prime Minister Syed Yousuf Raza Gilani in his address at the SAARC Summit.

Mr Zardari had recently told a Pakistani newspaper in an interview that he would give Pakistani people ''good news on Kashmir.'' He also said he did not believe in ''secret diplomacy.'' UNI RB PD BD2350

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