Putin, Musharraf vow new start to relations


MOSCOW - Ending a 30-year diplomatic estrangement, the presidents of Pakistan and Russia met in the Kremlin yesterday and pledged a fresh start to relations after decades of alliances with each other's sworn enemies.

But the rapprochement was tempered by the Kremlin's announcement that President Vladimir V. Putin had telephoned the prime minister of Pakistan's still-sworn enemy, India, in an apparent reassurance that yesterday's meeting would not affect their close ties.

Putin and Pakistan's president, Gen. Pervez Musharraf, signed a handful of diplomatic and cultural accords at the two-hour session, which ran more than twice its scheduled length. Putin hinted that the two nations would sign new economic agreements today.

But while both men said increasing trade was a primary goal of yesterday's meeting, terrorism is clearly the force that has driven the warming in their relations. Pakistan and Russia have found themselves allied with the United States in the effort to curb terrorism in central and south Asia, on Russia's southern flank, and yesterday, Putin called for the two nations' law-enforcement agencies to cooperate more closely on terrorism issues.

Musharraf paid tribute to a major Russian concern by acknowledging in a newspaper interview that fighters from Russia's separatist Chechen republic had been allied with the Taliban in Afghanistan, and that representatives of Chechen guerrillas would not find sanctuary in Pakistan.

"We will not permit anybody who organizes terrorist acts to visit Pakistan. That does not apply to Chechens alone," he said in an interview in the Moscow daily Izvestiya.

In that interview, Musharraf dismissed statements by some Russian politicians warning that the Kremlin must move slowly to repair relations with Pakistan lest it alienate India. Russia and India have been close allies since the 1960s, and Moscow today remains India's major supplier of military hardware.

"We have to trust each other and spend less time looking over the shoulder at our neighbors," Musharraf said. "Pakistan is ready for it. Is Russia ready? Russia and India are friends, and I welcome it. But I would also want Russia to be friends with Pakistan without looking at India for approval."

Yesterday's discussions also were said to have centered on Pakistan's historic dispute with India over Kashmir, the India-controlled region claimed by both nations. Putin tried to broker talks on the Kashmir dispute at a regional summit last June, but his initiative collapsed when Indian officials refused to meet with Musharraf.

Putin was reported to have urged Musharraf again to stanch the flow of Islamic guerrillas over the so-called line of control, the shaky cease-fire zone separating Pakistan and disputed Kashmiri territory held by India.

After the two leaders' meeting ran well past its scheduled end, Putin said he was not surprised. "The last visit of a Pakistani president to our country took place 33 years ago. We have a vast agenda to discuss," he said.

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