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THE WORLD

Putin Fails in India-Pakistan Peace Bid

Diplomacy: Russian president meets with leaders of two nuclear rivals at security summit. Direct negotiations don't appear likely soon.

June 05, 2002|JOHN DANISZEWSKI | TIMES STAFF WRITER

ALMATY, Kazakhstan — Russian President Vladimir V. Putin's attempt to play peacemaker between India and Pakistan fell flat Tuesday, leaving the two nuclear-armed South Asia neighbors still on the brink of war over Kashmir with no prospect of direct negotiations any time soon.

Taking advantage of an Asian security meeting in Kazakhstan to press the world's plea for a reduction in tensions, Putin held back-to-back meetings with Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf and Indian Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee that lasted a total of three hours late Tuesday afternoon.

The two countries reportedly have massed 1 million troops on their border. Putin's discussions were aimed at drawing them into some kind of negotiating process with himself as mediator to cool tempers and help de-escalate the situation.

But in the end, the Russian leader was forced to tell reporters gathered outside a mountain retreat where the discussions were held that he had achieved little, aside from what he considered to be positive signals.

"The necessary conditions for holding meetings [to negotiate] are viewed differently by the two sides so far," Putin said. "But a desire for direct contacts is there. And what is just as important, both have emphasized that they do not intend to use force to solve the problems that have accumulated over many years.

"To my mind," he added, "this is a very important thing."

Early today, Vajpayee told a news conference here that India would consider working jointly with Pakistan to monitor the Line of Control that divides the two nations in Kashmir, Associated Press reported. There was no immediate reaction from Pakistan to the proposal.

India and Pakistan have gone to war twice over the mainly Muslim region of Kashmir. Militants have been seeking to either create an independent Kashmir or unite the Indian-controlled sector with mainly Muslim Pakistan.

On Tuesday evening, Musharraf described a Russian proposal to bring him and Vajpayee to Moscow for further talks. But the idea apparently failed to take off.

At a packed news conference, the Pakistani president said he had accepted the Russian invitation at once and hoped that India's leader would follow suit.

"Whether it is bilateral or trilateral, we are in for any kind of mediation," Musharraf said. "It depends on Prime Minister Vajpayee whether he would like to attend."

But after Vajpayee emerged from his talks with Putin, an Indian spokesman indicated that the prime minister had not been invited to Moscow.

According to Russian and Indian sources here, the Indian stance against direct talks was so strong that ultimately Putin issued no new invitation to Vajpayee. Rather, Putin told reporters, he hoped to take advantage of a previous Indian invitation for him to travel to New Delhi later this year.

Putin tried to put the best face on his talks here in the former Kazakh capital.

"The very fact that the two leaders agreed to come to Almaty, and then came, means a great deal and instills great hope," he said.

Nonetheless, a pall hung over the conference's end, heightened by Musharraf's refusal--as in the past--to categorically rule out the use of nuclear weapons by Pakistan.

Pakistan has an estimated 25 to 50 nuclear warheads, while India is believed to possess 100 to 150, according to Jane's Strategic Weapon Systems.

Amid the efforts toward peace, fresh artillery duels and gunfire broke out Tuesday across the Line of Control that divides Indian and Pakistani areas of Kashmir. There were unconfirmed reports of deaths on both sides.

Putin's efforts to negotiate between the two South Asian leaders should be viewed as a failure, one Russian analyst said.

"Nothing was achieved. The situation hasn't changed an iota from where it was yesterday," was the dour assessment Tuesday by Andrei A. Piontkovsky, a Moscow-based political analyst with the Independent Institute for Strategic Studies.

"Despite the obvious pro-Indian stance of the Russian Foreign Ministry, today's meeting demonstrated that the Russian Foreign Ministry and President Putin himself have zero influence over India," he said.

With the apparent failure of the Russian peace effort, the next mediation effort will be taken up by the Americans. Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld and Deputy Secretary of State Richard L. Armitage are scheduled to visit South Asia in coming days.

The problem facing Putin at the Almaty conference was that India and Pakistan had staked out their positions well before their meetings with the Russian leader.

Musharraf repeatedly has stated that Pakistan is not tolerating any terrorism across the Line of Control aimed at the Indian-held portion of Kashmir or at India itself. He says that Vajpayee's government, therefore, has no reason to threaten his country but instead should begin a dialogue.

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