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. India expresses concern over US arms sales to Pakistan
NEW DELHI (AFP) Mar 09, 2005
India on Wednesday expressed concern over sales of arms to Pakistan by the United States and said it could impact the ongoing peace process between the nuclear-armed rivals.

"India's strong concern regarding repercussions of arms sales to Pakistan by the United States -- including on the ongoing India-Pakistan dialogue -- has been conveyed at high levels to the US government," junior foreign minister Edappakath Ahamed told parliament, according to the Press Trust of India.

India and Pakistan have fought three wars and came close to a fourth three years ago when gunmen attacked India's parliament. New Delhi claimed they were sponsored by Islamabad.

The neighbours since January 2004 have been engaged in a slow and delicate peace dialogue to normalise relations.

Pakistan has stood side-by-side with US President George W. Bush's administration since the September 11, 2001 attacks on the United States which killed about 3,000 people and which were claimed by Al-Qaeda.

Last year Pakistan earned the status of a major US non-NATO ally, a designation which is supposed to ease the sale of US military hardware.

Since the 2001 attacks, Islamabad has looked to Washington to rectify what it calls an imbalance of power with its much larger neighbour India.

Pakistani officials have indicated they want to buy 25 F-16 fighter jets -- worth around 25 million dollars each -- by mid-2005 to add another squadron of aircraft to its existing fleet.

India strongly opposes the potential sale.

The US Senate in January approved a budget which included military aid to Pakistan and Afghanistan, but has so far stalled on the F-16 issue.

The January allocation was designed to bolster the capabilities of Pakistan's armed forces which are hunting suspected Al-Qaeda fugitives along the rugged border with Afghanistan.

It followed an earlier notification by US defense officials of a possible 1.3-billion-dollar arms package for Pakistan.

This would include eight P-3C Orion planes to strengthen surveillance of Pakistan's coastal and border regions in a bid to stop the movement of terrorists and drugs, US defense officials have said.

In February, Pakistan's foreign ministry spokesman said Islamabad had conveyed its concern to Washington over New Delhi's interest in buying US-made Patriot missiles.

Briefing parliament about the ongoing India-Pakistan peace dialogue, Ahamed said the visit of Foreign Minister Natwar Singh to Islamabad last month had taken the process "significantly forward.

During Singh's visit -- the first by an Indian foreign minister in 15 years -- the two sides announced the launch of an inter-Kashmir bus service between the divided zones of the Himalayan state from April 7.

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