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THE WORLD

Dialogue Urged in Kashmir Crisis

Asia: Powell, on visit, pushes for Pakistani- Indian talks and praises Musharraf for reining in Islamic militants. He also stops in Kabul.

January 17, 2002|TYLER MARSHALL | TIMES STAFF WRITER

ISLAMABAD, Pakistan — Secretary of State Colin L. Powell launched a personal diplomatic effort Wednesday to coax India and Pakistan back from the brink of war, declaring that dialogue is the only way to resolve their standoff over the disputed region of Kashmir.

At a news conference after meetings with President Pervez Musharraf and other Pakistani leaders, Powell praised Musharraf for what he termed "strong actions" to rein in militant Islamic groups that have used Pakistani soil to launch terrorist attacks against India. He called on both nuclear-armed countries to build on the actions to bring peace.

"The important thing now is for both sides to make a political judgment that the way out of this crisis is political and diplomatic and not through conflict," Powell said. "We need a campaign against terrorism, not a campaign with these two countries fighting one another."

From Pakistan, Powell went to Kabul, Afghanistan, arriving this morning at the presidential palace, where he and interim Prime Minister Hamid Karzai discussed everything from Afghanistan's security to an upcoming Tokyo conference where prospective donor nations are to pledge aid to Afghanistan.

Powell said the U.S. is working to free up Afghan accounts that were frozen around the world after Sept. 11, and he expects some of the money to be available in the near future.

In Pakistan, Powell's comments came against the backdrop of a massive military buildup in Kashmir along the so-called Line of Control that divides Kashmir between India and Pakistan. The Himalayan region is claimed by both countries.

Powell will also travel to New Delhi for meetings with India's leaders.

Militant Islamic groups have conducted a campaign of terror against targets in Indian-controlled Kashmir for years, but a brazen assault on India's Parliament last month stunned the country's leaders and sparked the current standoff.

Tensions between the two South Asian neighbors eased slightly earlier this week after Musharraf, a general who came to power in a bloodless 1999 coup, distanced himself from Pakistani-based militant groups in a major speech Saturday, then backed up his rhetoric by beginning a crackdown against the most prominent of the groups.

Although Powell praised Musharraf's anti-terrorist initiatives, the reaction in New Delhi has been far more guarded. Indian leaders remain highly skeptical about how serious the crackdown is and have rejected calls for a pullback of India's military forces to peacetime positions.

Still, after a meeting of Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee's Cabinet committee on security Tuesday, Indian Foreign Minister Jaswant Singh appeared more cautious than negative, telling reporters that there hadn't been "sufficient time to assess the situation" since Musharraf's speech.

Pakistani officials reject India's skepticism, insisting that the action against the militant groups is both serious and comprehensive.

In an interview Tuesday, Javed Iqbal Cheema, director general of Pakistan's National Crisis Management Cell, which is coordinating the government's move against militant groups, offered details of the initiative. Cheema said that since the crackdown began last weekend, about 2,000 people with ties to five banned militant organizations had been taken into custody and about 1,000 offices used by these groups in various parts of the country had been searched and sealed.

He asserted that most key leaders were among those so far picked up.

"We have the top leadership of all five groups, and the second tier is also in," Cheema said.

Cheema rejected Indian worries that the roundup is largely for show and that those involved will quickly be released.

"They will be investigated, interrogated and then tried under our anti-terrorism law," he said.

India, however, says it won't withdraw troops from its border with Pakistan, or along the cease-fire line dividing Kashmir, until it is satisfied that "cross-border terrorism" is stopped. New Delhi is also waiting for the extradition of 20 men it accuses of terrorism and organized crime.

"These are the two touchstones on the basis of which we will judge," Indian Interior Minister Lal Krishna Advani said at a news conference in New Delhi on Wednesday.

The extradition list includes Maulana Masood Azhar, head of Jaish-e-Mohammed, which Musharraf banned Saturday. India accuses Jaish-e-Mohammed and Lashkar-e-Taiba, another militant group, in the Parliament attack, in which 14 people were killed, including the five gunmen.

Azhar was reportedly detained by Pakistani authorities earlier this week, but there has been no discussion of handing him over to India for trial. Indian intelligence claims that in 1993, Azhar led a group of militants to Somalia, where they allegedly participated in attacks on U.S. troops. On Oct. 3 of that year, 18 U.S. soldiers died in a firefight with Somali gunmen.

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