Tags: U.S. | Urges | India | and | Pakistan | Cool

U.S. Urges India and Pakistan to Cool It

Wednesday, 29 May 2002 12:00 AM

South Asia's two nuclear rivals have deployed more than a million troops along their border, stirring fears of a war and a possible atomic conflict in one of the world's most populous regions.

Urging both sides to take "concrete actions on the ground," State Department spokesman Richard Boucher encouraged Pakistan to "do things like end the infiltration across the line of control.

"And those kind of responsible actions on one side, as they are taken, we think should be appreciated by others on the other side."

The line of control divides disputed Kashmir between India and Pakistan. Claimed by both sides since independence in 1947, Kashmir has already caused two wars and countless border clashes.

"The climate is very charged and a serious conflagration could ensue if events spiral out of control," Boucher told reporters at the State Department. "It's vital for everyone involved to do the utmost to reduce violence, lower the rhetoric, exercise restraint."

The latest conflict started with a terrorist attack on the Indian parliament Dec. 13. After another terrorist attack on an Indian army camp May 14, Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee alerted his troops for "a decisive battle" with Pakistan.

The ensuing tension sent world leaders scurrying to New Delhi and Islamabad to try to prevent a war. The first to come was a Russian deputy foreign minister with a message from President Vladimir Putin who invited the Indian and Pakistani leaders to Kazakhstan next week for bilateral talks.

He was followed by the British Foreign Secretary Jack Straw, who is in New Delhi after discussing his peace proposals with the Pakistani leaders in Islamabad. Japan is also sending a deputy foreign minister this week with a message for both to exercise restraint.

On June 6, U.S. Deputy Secretary of State Richard Armitage arrives in the region to urge India and Pakistan to resolve their disputes amicably.

Washington has been involved in the dispute since December. President Bush and Secretary of State Colin Powell have remained in touch with regional leaders to prevent the situation from getting out of hand.

The United States is working closely with Britain on this issue. Washington believes that as a former colonial power Britain has a vast experience in dealing with that region, which could be useful for defusing tensions. Boucher said that Powell has maintained regular contacts with Straw ever since the tensions began.

"The secretary talked to him once more this morning, as he did yesterday, as he did virtually every day once or twice in the last week. Last Monday he talked to President Musharraf. He talked to [Indian] Foreign Minister Singh last Friday. Monday he also talked to the Chinese foreign minister about the situation between India and Pakistan," said Boucher.

"It's been an issue that he's been working on on the road as well as working with Deputy Secretary Armitage and our representatives in the region."

While describing Indian and Pakistani leaders as "responsible," Boucher warned them "as tensions escalate, the leaders could find themselves in a situation in which irresponsible elements can spark a conflict.

"That remains our view of the situation. What we're trying to do is coordinate efforts with others in order to reduce tensions, avoid armed conflict," he said.

Referring to Musharraf's recent statement that Pakistan will not allow its territory to be used by terrorists for attacks anywhere, Boucher said, "Those positive statements need to be linked to concrete action."

Although media reports indicate that international pressure appears to have reduced the threat of war, Boucher warned the situation "is not any less dire than it has been over the past few days and that the tensions remain very, very high and that the responsibility, therefore, of responsible officials on both sides remains very great.

"Our goal is to see ... that people look not at how they can take political advantage of a crisis or engage in a spiral of rhetoric ... but rather that people look at concrete steps they can take to lower the tensions and to really move directly towards easing off in the tensions there."

Boucher announced that Washington is sending its ambassador in Ghana, Nancy Powell, to Islamabad this week as charge d'affaires after America's ambassador to Pakistan, Wendy Chamberlin, left for home Wednesday.

In recent interviews to Pakistani newspaper Chamberlin said she was leaving Pakistan for "family reasons," indicating that her children were finding it difficult to cope.

Boucher said Powell would stay in Islamabad "until a U.S. ambassador is permanently in place there." Powell has worked in the region before.

Replying to a question, Boucher said the U.S. and Pakistani governments were concerned that terrorist groups such as al-Qaeda might take advantage of the situation by stirring up trouble in Kashmir and diverting Pakistan's attention away from hunting them down.

Commenting on Pakistan's missile tests over the weekend and on Tuesday, he said: "It would be better if it had not taken place, but ... we continue to pursue our efforts to try to ease tensions."

Asked to comment on Musharraf's May 27 speech in which he urged his nation to be ready for a war, the U.S. spokesman said: "Rather than getting into the rhetoric of this, I want to just reiterate the statement we made before, that we're working with the parties, looking to them to take the kind of actions that can ease the tension, and that ending infiltration is one of those."

Copyright 2002 by United Press International.

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South Asia's two nuclear rivals have deployed more than a million troops along their border, stirring fears of a war and a possible atomic conflict in one of the world's most populous regions. Urging both sides to take concrete actions on the ground, State Department...
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Wednesday, 29 May 2002 12:00 AM
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