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Asian leaders gather amid tensions, India rules out Pakistan talks
( 2002-06-03 11:15 ) (7 )

With Russian President Vladimir Putin set to play mediator, Asian leaders converged on the Kazakh commercial capital Almaty on Monday for a 16-nation security forum focused on tensions between fractious nuclear-capable neighbors India and Pakistan.

Russia has said that apart from holding meetings with Indian Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee and Pakistan's President Pervez Musharraf, Putin may try to persuade the two leaders to meet face-to-face - a possibility all but ruled out by India.

Vajpayee on Sunday ruled out a proposed meeting with Pakistani leaders as tensions centered on the disputed Kashmir region continued. Musharraf offered assurances Saturday that the military standoff would not escalate to nuclear war, saying no "sane individual" would let tensions get to that level.

Vajpayee and Musharraf have been under intense pressure to come together for talks in Almaty; Putin is expected to hold bilateral talks with both men. Moscow had hoped to broker a face-to-face meeting between the two.

Vajpayee, who arrived in Almaty on Sunday night, told reporters before leaving New Delhi "there was no such plan" as far as direct talks with Musharraf were concerned.


But earlier, as he left New Delhi for Kazakhstan, Vajpayee appeared to leave the door open, saying he would give "serious consideration" to talks at some point if there was evidence Musharraf was making good on his promise to curb Islamic militant raids into Indian Kashmir. "If we see the result on the ground of General Musharraf's statement, we will certainly give it a serious consideration," he said.

Indian Defense Minister George Fernandes was more direct.

"I do not see that possibility [a Vajpayee-Musharraf meeting] at all, because if there is to be any kind of talking then the cross-border terrorism has to stop forthwith," he said after a regional security conference in Singapore.

Pakistan must also hand over 14 alleged Indian terrorists if there is to be any meeting, he said.

The Pakistani leader, on the contrary, welcomed such a meeting during a brief visit to Tajikistan en route to Almaty. But Musharraf made clear he would be reluctant to renew the offer if Vajpayee kept rejecting it.

"I have several times proposed a meeting to Vajpayee, but if he does not want it, I think that in future there is no point in raising this question again," he said through a Russian translator.


In an earlier interview with CNN, Musharraf said nuclear conflict was unthinkable. He also restated his willingness to negotiate with India.

Musharraf said that Pakistan has called for a no-war pact with India and the denuclearization of South Asia. He was asked about the possibility that the current situation could escalate into nuclear war.

"I don't think either side is that irresponsible to go to that limit," Musharraf said. "I would even go to the extent of saying one shouldn't even be discussing these things, because any sane individual cannot even think of going into this unconventional war, whatever the pressures."


Fernandes also sought to ease concerns that the conflict could spin out of control, saying his country "will not be impulsive" and promising that it would never use a nuclear weapon other than as a deterrent.

ˇ°We don't see the makings of any kind of an escalation that takes one to the extreme," Fernandes said Sunday.

Still, Fernandes called on the United States, Japan and Europe to stop giving money to Pakistan.

He said that "if you really want that the present situation ... be brought to an end, then this is the best way of doing it. You don't have to fire a shot."

The growing fear of a wider conflict prompted the United Nations on Saturday to tell its staffers in India and Pakistan to send their families home. France, Israel and South Korea joined the list of nations advising their citizens to leave as the South Asian neighbors continued shelling each other along their border, killing at least eight people.


Concern about Pakistan using nuclear weapons stems from the fact that Pakistan has a much smaller military than India. India has a policy of not using nuclear weapons first in a conflict.

ˇ°There is no way India will ever use a nuclear weapon other than as a deterrent. We stand by our nuclear doctrine," Fernandes said. "India will not get drawn into a nuclear arms race."

In a speech at the Asian security summit, Fernandes said that "India will not be impulsive" in the standoff with Pakistan despite what he called heavy public pressure for military action.

"The country is angry and anguished," the Indian defense chief said, weeping at one point in his speech when he described violence in the divided Himalayan region of Kashmir. "The pressure on our prime minister ... to launch an attack is intense."

On Saturday, Fernandes said there was no sign of a swift reconciliation, and concern abroad mounted about a wider military conflict as neither country offered a diplomatic solution to their dispute over Kashmir, the spark for two of their three wars. Both countries claim the region in its entirety.

Fernandes emphasized in his speech that India will be steadfast in fighting the terrorism it blames on Pakistan.

"Neither will we waver in our determination for the simple reason that what we have been fighting and will continue to fight is the war against terrorism, the same terrorism which hit the World Trade Center and the Pentagon," he said.

Fernandes also urged the international community to put pressure on Pakistan.

"I believe the global community led by the United States can prevail upon Pakistan to live up to its responsibilities to the global community," he said.


The recent attacks in India - including a December suicide raid on Parliament that killed 14 people - ratcheted up tensions over Kashmir and led to the deployment of more than 1 million troops along both sides of the border.

On Saturday, cross-border shelling killed three civilians in India and two in Pakistan, according to official reports.

A grenade attack by suspected Islamic militants also killed a 14-year-old boy and injured 16 people, including two soldiers, in Srinagar, the summer capital of India's Jammu-Kashmir state, while a gunfight between Indian paramilitary forces and guerrillas in Nihalpora, some 22 miles to the north, killed one militant and a teen-age boy caught in the cross fire, Indian officials said.

The United Nations said Saturday that its staff members in Pakistan and India have been ordered to send their families home in the next few days. The order covers 260 dependents in India and more than 300 in Pakistan, U.N. officials said.

ˇ°This is not a product of any assessment that the situation is getting more dangerous by the minute, but an attempt to deal with the potential situation before it develops," UN spokesman Feodor Starcevik said in New Delhi.

The United States and Britain are among the countries that have already advised their citizens to leave India.


Pakistan and India routinely trade tit-for-tat charges and actions and accuse each other of spying. On Saturday, Pakistan detained an Indian embassy worker for receiving sensitive documents. A day earlier, India detained a Pakistani High Commission employee for allegedly taking classified defense documents from a retired Indian air force official.

India accuses Pakistan of supporting Islamic militant groups who are waging a 12-year insurgency in Indian Kashmir, demanding independence or merger with Pakistan. The Indian part of Kashmir is the country's only Muslim-majority state. At least 60,000 people have died in fighting in Kashmir since 1989.

Pakistan says it offers only moral and diplomatic support for the insurgents and does not back terrorist attacks.


Last week, Musharraf claimed cross-border incursions by Pakistan-based Islamic militants had ended.

He told CNN his country is "against militancy" and "will fight militancy in any form" but said Kashmiri separatists are engaged in "a genuine freedom struggle" to force the implementation of a UN resolution calling for the right of self-determination.

The Indian army said 21 Kashmiri militants of the Hezb-ul Mujahedeen, or Party of Holy Warriors, surrendered in a growing split between Kashmiri and Pakistani members of the group. The Pakistan-based group's commander in Indian Kashmir, Abdul Majid Dar, was ousted after saying he favored negotiations with India.

And on Sunday, sources among Kashmiri separatist groups told Reuters they have virtually halted all infiltration into Indian-held Kashmir under instructions from the government in Islamabad.

"We have been asked to stop sending militants across the Line of Control," a militant source said, referring to the 1948 cease-fire line dividing the two armies in the disputed Himalayan region.

"They have been asked, so infiltration has virtually stopped," another source close to the militants said. "The instruction was issued around a week ago or so."

"There is also a restriction on militant groups using any communication means to contact their guys in Indian-administered Kashmir," the source added.

Pakistan has moved some troops away from the Afghan border, where they are helping US forces in the campaign to flush out al-Qaida and Taliban militants. Islamabad is considering redeploying the soldiers to the Indian frontier.


With no sign that either India or Pakistan was offering a diplomatic solution in Kashmir, concern mounted about a broader military conflict.

Senior State Department and intelligence officials said that US intelligence from the region indicated that both India and Pakistan were keeping their nuclear arsenals warehoused. The officials said Pakistan has both a numerical and qualitative advantage over India in terms of nuclear weaponry and delivery systems. Islamabad has "dozens" of nuclear-capable short- and medium-range missiles available while India has none.

"It's possible they [India] could strap something together, but it is more likely they would rely on aircraft [fighter bombers]," said one intelligence official, who spoke on condition of anonymity.

Over the years, the official said, Pakistan has quietly stolen the advantage over India in weapon design and miniaturization, crucial for developing a working nuclear arsenal, while India focused on designing larger weapons.

The official added that analysts remained "pessimistic" that India and Pakistan could avoid a conventional war.



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