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Powell to Shore Up Terror War

July 28, 2002|ROBIN WRIGHT | TIMES STAFF WRITER

NEW DELHI — Secretary of State Colin L. Powell arrived Saturday in India on the first leg of an ambitious eight-nation Asian tour to help defuse regional tensions and beef up cooperation in the so-called second fronts in the war on terrorism.

During his eight-day mission, Powell hopes to prod nuclear-armed rivals India and Pakistan into a dialogue, discuss military cooperation with the Philippines and Indonesia, and finalize an anti-terrorism accord with the Assn. of Southeast Asian Nations, or ASEAN. The pact, the first of its kind, could serve as a model for other regional blocs, U.S. officials said.

The Bush administration's goal is to prevent the post-Sept. 11 momentum from dissipating in the aftermath of the war in Afghanistan and the arrest of alleged Al Qaeda operatives and associates around the world. The United States hopes to set in motion mechanisms for greater practical collaboration as well as agreements that will ensure future support for its efforts.

But the challenges for Powell were underscored by the tough stance taken by India on defusing its crisis with Pakistan over the Himalayan region of Kashmir, which both nations claim. A terrorist attack by Kashmiri militants on India's Parliament late last year brought the two states to the brink of war. A million troops remain deployed along their border.

Shortly before Powell's arrival, Indian Foreign Minister Yashwant Sinha charged that New Delhi had been betrayed by Pakistan's failure to end militants' cross-border infiltration into the Indian-held portion of Kashmir, which like Pakistan is predominantly Muslim. Although tensions had decreased since U.S. mediation last month, extremist infiltration continues, he said in a CNN interview.

"There must be a decisive, complete, a permanent end to this cross-border terrorism," Sinha said. "Only then shall we be in a position to resume our dialogue with Pakistan."

Powell arrived in the region as fighting escalated along the Line of Control dividing the Pakistani- and Indian-held portions of Kashmir. Fierce artillery barrages, the heaviest in weeks, were reported Saturday.

In a separate terrorist attack, at least two civilians were killed when gunmen threw grenades at a crowded market in Budgam, west of Srinagar, the summer capital of India's Jammu and Kashmir state.

En route to India, Powell acknowledged that he didn't expect any breakthroughs on the Kashmir situation.

"I want to see what both sides might be willing to do to keep us from going down that escalatory ladder," he said. "I will certainly explore possibilities and see what reciprocity might exist between the two sides, if either side took certain steps."

Powell will hold more meetings with India's top leadership this morning and then fly to Pakistan to talk with President Pervez Musharraf in the afternoon.

The United States hopes that India's plan to hold local elections in Kashmir in early fall will help address demands for greater autonomy and diminish support in India's only Muslim-dominated region for the militant separatist movement.

Powell said he will encourage the government of Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee to hold "free, open, fair and inclusive" elections in Kashmir so that all parties that want to run will be given a place on the ballot.

"I will be encouraging them to encourage moderate participation, participation of all parties in the election process," Powell said en route to India.

The United States will also urge India to allow independent observers to monitor the elections to prove to the world that they were held freely, he told reporters traveling with him.

Powell plans to tell Musharraf that Pakistan should do everything possible to ensure that no terrorist attacks, border infiltration or other actions disrupt the vote.

He will also press Musharraf on the need to be vigilant about Al Qaeda and the former Taliban rulers of Afghanistan "drifting over the border into Pakistan."

Powell acknowledged that the United States is concerned that Islamabad, distracted by the Kashmir crisis, "might remove some of its focus" from the Pakistani-Afghan border, where many Al Qaeda and Taliban fighters are believed to be operating.

Powell will then fly to Southeast Asia for visits to Thailand, Malaysia and Singapore and a meeting with 10 ASEAN leaders and 22 of his Asian counterparts in Brunei.

The pact that the United States hopes to sign in Brunei is still under wraps, but it is expected to include increased collaboration on intelligence and stemming the flow of terrorist funds.

On the last two legs of his visit, Powell will explore closer counter-terrorism cooperation with the Philippines and Indonesia, both of which are plagued by Muslim separatist movements.

"We will continue to explore with the Filipinos how to move forward with our joint training exercises," Powell said. "We stand ready to assist our friends and work with our friends in ways that they want."

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