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Kashmir Rebel Group Vows to Escalate War

South Asia: The warning comes after India-Pakistan talks fail to yield an agreement. Both nations pledge to continue peace efforts.

July 18, 2001|PAUL WATSON | TIMES STAFF WRITER

AGRA, India — The most feared rebel group in Kashmir warned Tuesday that it will intensify attacks after an unsuccessful summit between India and Pakistan, while both countries said they will carry on with peace efforts.

Hafiz Mohammed Saeed, head of the Lashkar-e-Taiba guerrillas, said the failure of the Indian and Pakistani leaders to sign an agreement after weekend talks proved that a Muslim holy war, or jihad, was the only solution to the Kashmir dispute.

"Jihad will be accelerated, and India will be dealt with a fatal blow," Saeed told a news conference in Lahore, the capital of Pakistan's Punjab province.

But the foreign ministers of both countries promised Tuesday in separate news conferences that Indian Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee and Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf will continue to search for a negotiated settlement.

Denying that the summit here was a failure, Pakistani Foreign Minister Abdus Sattar said that the two leaders had twice come close to agreeing on a joint declaration at the end of the gathering and that their goodwill was strong enough for the peace efforts to continue toward fruition.

"The Agra summit remained inconclusive, but it did not fail," Sattar told reporters in Islamabad, Pakistan's capital. "In fact, the two leaders succeeded in covering a broad area of common ground in the draft declaration. That will provide a valuable foundation for the two leaders to reach full agreement at a future meeting."

But even if the Pakistani foreign minister is proven right, a joint declaration would only mark the start of a process that would require difficult compromises from both sides to reach a lasting peace.

The Indian prime minister has accepted an invitation for a follow-up summit in Pakistan, but no date has been set. Sattar said Musharraf and Vajpayee will also meet this fall in New York when world leaders gather at the United Nations headquarters.

The weekend summit ended in deadlock because neither side was willing to budge on fundamental principles.

Pakistan insists that there can't be any improvement in the nations' overall relationship without first making significant progress toward resolving their long dispute over the Kashmir region. India demands "a comprehensive dialogue" including other issues, such as trade, nuclear weapons and what it calls "cross-border terrorism" by Kashmir rebels who it says are supported by Pakistan.

"We do not believe that bilateral relations between India and Pakistan ought to, or can be, held hostage by any single issue," Indian Foreign Minister Jaswant Singh told a news conference Tuesday in Agra, where the summit was held with the 17th century Taj Mahal as a backdrop.

Sattar said Musharraf and Vajpayee simply ran out of time in the search for words they could both accept, in a single paragraph of the draft declaration.

"I do not think whatever has happened at Agra will strengthen the hand of negative elements," Sattar said.

Kashmir has been a source of conflict between the two nations since they broke free of the British empire in 1947. It is predominantly Muslim, as is Pakistan. Mainly Hindu India rules two-thirds of the territory and has been battling a Kashmir rebellion.

The Agra talks have been called India's first "satellite summit" because three Indian television networks provided live coverage throughout Musharraf's three-day visit.

As the talks went on in private--and with details hard to come by--the networks vamped with endless analyses by Indian, Pakistani and foreign experts, which even included close scrutiny of Musharraf's clothes for any clues of his intentions.

The Pakistani leader admitted to watching some of the coverage in his hotel room, which had a stunning view of the Taj Mahal, and said he was "very hurt" when he heard an Indian reporter ask whether the former general could be trusted.

Indian Information Minister Sushma Swaraj caused the first public crisis of the summit when she stood in front of a television camera Sunday and listed the issues being discussed. She didn't mention Kashmir, which Pakistani officials later said dominated the talks, and the Pakistani delegation issued an angry statement in protest.

The next morning, Musharraf spoke to Indian editors at a breakfast meeting, and a videotape of the tough-talking leader aired for about 90 minutes on television when he was sitting down with Vajpayee for talks.

Singh, the Indian foreign minister, said Monday that his government had helped set up the breakfast meeting on the understanding that it was off the record. In a high-minded tone, perhaps more suited to the age of salon diplomacy, Singh insisted that India's government would never negotiate through the media.

But his Pakistani counterpart told reporters in Islamabad that the rules of diplomacy had changed.

"In contemporary diplomacy, it is impossible to segregate official talks and interaction with the media," Sattar said.

Musharraf's meeting with the editors, in which he said Pakistanis didn't trust India's government and thought that it was stonewalling in the hope that the Kashmir dispute would go away, "was not a secret approach behind the back of anybody," Sattar added.

There was nothing Musharraf told the Indian editors that he didn't tell Indian leaders in the summit talks, the Pakistani foreign minister said.

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